Detroit Free Press Interview With James Campion – Transcript

Interview – Transcript  

James Campion, author of Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon
Brian McCollum /Detroit Free Press – October, 20, 2015

Brian McCollum: Hey, James. Really great to speak with you. Just read the book and enjoyed it. It was personally resonant to me because not only do I write about music in Detroit, but I’m from Charlotte and I worked at the Observer. You wrote about your time spent researching this mystery behind the song “Detroit Rock City” and working with people from that paper like Marie David. I’m not positive… when would this have been, when you were dealing with her?KogGoOL-50

 

James Campion: Last year.  2013 into… I pushed it as far as I can go – I think I sent the final version of the manuscript in February, so I want to say through last holidays into the beginning of 2015, yeah.

 

Did you ever meet her? I may have known her. Is she young? Because I was at the Observer in the early 90s, so it’s been awhile.

 

She did not sound too young, but I did not meet her and I’m bad at guessing ages even when I am in the same room with someone. We spoke mainly on the phone and through email. The only people I met were the people at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, they were very nice. I flew down there last October. My parents live there. They’ve been down there since the 80s. I stayed with them for a couple of days and they drove me over to the state building at the capitol and I spent probably a whole afternoon and another morning going through microfiche and any other archived material from 1975 trying to find some semblance of a story that might have… my hope was to find the actual story that Paul Stanley might have been reading on an accident he cites as the inspiration for his song, “Detroit Rock City”, that was the dream. I thought for sure I’d stumble across this thing, “Teen dies on the way to KISS concert,” and Paul goes, “Oh, I’m gonna’ write this song,” They’ll have the name in the article and that will be a great ending to my book, which became Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon. But it eluded me, and I was able to… as you said, you read it… I pulled up about six or eight names that it could have been based on age and proximity to those concerts, the dates – a couple of people that worked for the band helped me by saying “It wasn’t ‘75 it was ‘74.” I went back in… it was quite a run. Everybody was so helpful, Marie specifically, she went back in twice for me and got me everything relevant.

 

Gosh, where to even start?  It’s a complicated… it almost seems it became this obsessive quest for you in a sense to track down this teeny nugget of information that’s kind of been lost to time in a lot of ways. Let me start with this… What is your sense of how well known this anecdote was in the first place? I guess the KISS die-hards would know this, this idea that “Detroit Rock City” was actually inspired by an incident somewhere down South. Did you get a sense of fairly conventional wisdom?  Because it was news to my editor. 

 

Yes it is. Let’s put it this way; KISS fans are nuts. I just did a podcast with a great gentlemen who does all of this KISS FAQ sites since the late ‘90s and has several books he has self-published. (Julian Gill), and we just did a podcast for an hour and he asked me the greatest minutiae questions, and I enjoyed it but you’d be amazed at the details these people absorb. I read everything that was ever written about KISS. There’s not as much as you would think, considering KISS’s popularity and impact on pop culture, even today, which was one of the motivations to do the book in the first place, but it hasn’t stopped KISS fans from filling the Internet with tons of minutia about the band and its history. When signed on with my publisher, Backbeat Books, they thought dissecting KISS and their seminal album, Destroyer was a great idea, because most KISS books are just about the makeup and merchandising, the salacious stuff. There are a couple of books where more is covered. The first place OI saw the quote was in Ken Sharp and David Leaf’s authorized biography of KISS, called Behind The Mask in 1996 when the band got back together for the reunion tour. There’s an entire quote there where Paul says, “I got the idea from this story that I heard… about a KISS fan driving to the show and loses his life… he was driving to someplace where people are celebrating life and he loses it, and that really affected me.”  Something like that. I’m paraphrasing, of course. The actual quote is in my book as well. He mentions Charlotte specifically. I should say I interviewed Paul in 2006 and he told me that it was down South. I interviewed him for an unrelated thing, a solo album he was doing then in 2006, but I was always fascinated by Destroyer and that song so I asked about it.

And then if you go online and really dig deep, like on Facebook and other places, there are people actually arguing about where it was… Ashville or Fayetteville North Carolina, Charlotte, towns around there – there is one place the woman was swearing to me, I can’t remember the town now… I wish I had the book in front of me…that the accident occurred in Fayetteville Then people from Detroit started saying no, because it’s “Detroit Rock City”, after all, why didn’t he just write “Charlotte Rock City”? Well, Charlotte is not really a rock city, per se… I think Paul really wanted to have a tribute to Detroit, because of what Detroit meant to bands like KISS and Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent. The Big 8 that used to broadcast out of Canada that really dominated Michigan and that whole area there… to Ohio, etc, and how bands really… raw bands…were accepted unequivocally, and what Cream Magazine did for those bands. I think there is something iconic, the fact they recorded their best material for Alive at Cobo Hall, all of that stuff led Paul to write about Detroit, but the incident apparently happened in the South.

Then, finally, author Jeff Suhs, who wrote a book about KISS back in the ‘90s (KISS Alive Forever) as well, he had gotten some key info from KISS’s 1974 road manager (Peter “Moose” Oreckinto when he and I were going back and forth, because I tried to get everybody’s input. Moose told Suhs he remembers hearing, not reading, about someone dying going to a concert either in Charlotte or one of the three or four cities they were in down South, so…

 

This was your interview with the road manager?

 

It was actually my discussion with Jeff Suhs, the author who had gotten that information from the road manager, the only thing the road manager said – and I was going to quote him, but this is toward the very end when the manuscript had to be in – “Look, I don’t remember anything about it, I just know I heard it. I heard about it at that point in the tour when we were down South, that someone had died driving to the concert.”small_shout

 

Right. Is he deceased now himself, the road manager?

 

No, he’s still alive. This was a recent discussion, late last year, early 2015.

 

Yeah, which again I’ve read, your book is just so packed with details you almost need a road map.

 

It’s a detective story, yeah.

 

Quite a mission you went on. Okay, back to my original question. It sounds like this is kind of a known thing among the real die-hard, “trainspotter” type KISS fans, but it’s not something the average joe rock fan in Detroit is going to know about, this idea that the song was inspired by someone else.

 

Right, or that it was inspired by a real event, because it comes on very much… I mean the record opens up with the announcement on the radio they did with the binaural recording with the radio announcing that a young man died on the way to a concert or whatever, and you hear the guy get in the car and start it up and plays “Rock and Roll All Nite” and he’s singing along on the way to the concert, and then the song starts and all of the lyrics there. It features that great middle section that Bob Ezrin ended up writing for the band that sounds almost like an aria. It’s a great rock song, but it’s also a beautiful sort of operatic melancholy tribute to no matter how young you are or how invincible you feel by rock music, there is always mortality involved, you know? And that kind of song is replete in rock history, whether it’s “Leader of the Pack” or “Wreck on the Highway”…many of them.

 

Yeah, Jan and Dean… Yeah. Absolutely. What was “The First Kiss”, right? The song Pearl Jam remade a few years back.  Yeah absolutely.

 

I should say this, producer Bob Ezrin admitted to me a mistake in the lyrics. The original lyric is “I’m speeding down 95” or something. They meant to say 75, since 95 is in New York and New Jersey, going up the East Coast and they were all New Yorkers. They ended up changing it on the lyrics sheet to “We’re doing 95,” which means the driver is going 95 mph. But they meant speeding down 95, when they meant 75. So that was an interesting little tidbit I learned from interviewing Bob Ezrin for the book, that they had to end up changing that in the lyrics sheet because they got the geography wrong.

 

Right, right. Yeah, I didn’t know that either actually. When I read that in your book, I was sitting there scratching my head like, “Well how has my brain always heard this?”  I had never even picked up on that, that they might have meant 75 here. Maybe I just, all these years, interpreted it as the speed and not the highway. But yeah, really interesting. So yeah, to dig into the story, you had gotten wind of this, or you knew of Paul Stanley’s story here, this brief backstory of the genesis of the song, which sent you… I mean why did you feel it was so important to dig up, to try and find this original incident down South? What really drove you?

 

It was twofold.  The first is that I’m writing a 300-plus page book on a single album, and that album’s initial song, which aside from the hit “Beth” and I guess “Shout It Out Loud”, is one of the top three songs, certainly on the album, as far as popularity in the KISS canon goes. But also it was my favorite KISS song. It was my favorite rock song, one of my favorite rock songs of the 70s. I love the opening, I love the car crash at the end, I love the middle section with the guitar solos and the harmonies; so it’s always been sort of interesting to me and I’ve always wanted to know its origins… and then when I found out it was a true story, I thought to myself, “Would any journalist or author worth his salt ignore this?” I mean, three years of my life, 300-plus pages, come on! Find out who this kid is. People talk about it as if it’s a thing, but they’ve never had a name. There was some point, I think I write about it in the afterword, I was almost convinced for about a week that Paul Stanley made it up. Because Gene and Paul make stuff up all the time, that’s the KISS thing right? Make it up, it’s a cool story. But it really did, I’m convinced it really did happen. But there was no report, and even if there was a report I’d think to myself, “In 1974, would anyone really give a shit if KISS was playing a concert in the South or really anywhere?” I mean, if someone died on the way to an Elvis Presley concert, sure. Yeah, I get that. A Paul McCartney concert, maybe, but KISS was still kind of coming up, so even if this person died going there I don’t know if that would have been put in the police report or the newspaper report that they were on the way to a concert, much less a KISS concert, so that kind of made me keep going.

The second part of it is that I really think I was always intrigued by the song and the album, enough to embark on this project, for sure. I just wanted to know. I was in the final weeks of getting the manuscript done and I said, “You know, let me just go full bore as a detective…” And once people started to help me, they got excited. People in the archives departments of all these newspapers and the people at the state archives in Raleigh were rummaging… “Let us try this. What about that?” It was great! Different police guys were saying, “Well we wouldn’t have reports of that, but why don’t you try this?” So almost everybody I talked to was kind of excited by the whole search, so that kept me going, kept me motivated.

 

You’d also made the point in the book… You said you did have that one moment you were convinced Paul had just made it up, and then you realized why make up… If you’re going to make it up, say it was in Detroit to begin with? Why throw Charlotte into the mix? It’s almost random. He’s writing a song about Detroit. If you’re going to invent an anecdote, just say it happened in Detroit.Stanley

 

I went to Israel in 1996 to do research for a book I was working on around the historical Jesus (Trailing Jesus), from the standpoint of a journalist going there and trying to figure out when these incidents could have happened and how… it was always an interest of mine, like Destroyer.  One of the things I noticed, that a lot of the Jesus scholarly approaches, people outside the canonical biblical stuff, they would say there were certain sayings attributed to Jesus that makes no sense, in another words if you’re going to make up a figure that’s supposed to represent God or be the Messiah, why would he ever say “Love your enemy?” That makes no sense. If you’re going to write something, and as a writer, I understand the argument that such a statement would be considered completely antithetical to the concepts of Christianity or First Century Judaism… so biblical scholars consider that statement an authentic piece of evidence to the historical Jesus, something not made up for the purposes of starting a religion or creating a myth. And that’s how I feel about Paul’s use of Detroit as opposed to mentioning being inspired by events happening in the South. I think that was the touchstone for me. Why would Paul say Charlotte? Why not say Detroit? It’s so much cooler. It’s a great rock town. It’s a car town.  Everything about it just begs to put the song in Detroit, which he in fact did!  Right there, I said to myself, “That must have happened, or at least he thinks it happened.” But then when the road manager kind of confirmed it through this writer Jeff Suhs, he just said “Here’s a little tidbit, I just talked to Moose and he says, it was ‘74. I don’t remember if it was a guy or a girl or a car accident or a motorcycle, I don’t remember what arena we were at, but I do remember hearing about it and me and Paul talking about it very briefly, and how Paul was affected by it.”  Of course you would be, it reminded me of the stampede in Cincinnati at The Who concert, those guys were forever changed by that.

 

And the story that these guys were hearing was that it was an accident after the concert, right? The kid or kids on their way home from the show.

 

Yeah, I believe that’s true. That’s as far as I got. The song portends or eulogizes or whatever word you want to use… legendizes… the idea that the kid is speeding on the way to “the midnight show”, smoking and drinking and driving fast, singing along to the songs of the band he is going to see, very romantic in a doomed sense, which again, was perfect for ‘70s music, because that was that period where the ‘60s had kind of died and this whole peace and love and we’re gonna change the world with rock music… this was a new era to find out what that was all about; “How we can reveal the realities of life” through song. And not that KISS dealt with that much, which is one of the reasons I love that song too, and how the album Destroyer changed what KISS was about. Because normally they would just write about sex and drinking or whatever, yet here was a situation where they were writing about mortality and about how a lot of their fans think they’re invincible, but, as we know, they’re not, none of us are, and that’s always hovering over the idea of being a rebellious character. I was always fascinated by that kind of theme to the song, you know?

 

You know, certainly, simply because of the title alone of course, it’s been kind of adopted as something of an anthem here in Detroit. The phrase “Detroit Rock City” has really entered the lexicon as a nickname. Maybe not quite on par with Motown, but it’s something you hear pretty regularly and in a lot of different contexts up here. 

 

Right. I read a book called Detroit Rock City last year that I reviewed it for The Aquarian, where I’m a contributing editor here in Jersey. I think the guy’s name is Steve Miller, I don’t think it’s the same Steve Miller…

 

Yeah, no relation.

 

Right, fantastic book. And it was something important that I wanted to read, having written a book about KISS in the ‘70s and rock music and I quote Lester Bangs in the book and how much Cream magazine meant to the band, everything Detroit was about. So yeah. I mean it truly is the rock city, it’s where rock and roll became rock, that heavy MC-5; it’s where Alice Cooper went; it’s where KISS had to go when people were just booing them off stages. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, obviously, working in Detroit and writing about music, but it’s a huge part of the pantheon and an undercurrent to my book. Obviously it’s an excellent subject for a song and it has survived all of these years. It’s funny, when I was finishing up the book and I was writing the final chapter, it was last year, and the opening night of the NFL season was Giants – Lions, and as they came out of the break they were playing “Detroit Rock City” so it was still very much relevant.

 

Of course, it became transmogrified into a film version (Detroit Rock City), Detroit is like the Emerald City of… guys on their journey to get here…

 

And it’s well-earned. It’s one of those things that’s well earned and not just thrown on for effect or tourism. Detroit is the rock city of America.  It is also famous, obviously in the ‘60s, for Motown, and what that meant… but there is something… there’s a real serious… I’ve often said many times that England is given credit on a glamour or pop culture sense for punk music, but punk music was invented in The Bowery in Manhattan, and so was hip-hop in the Bronx, and disco in many ways in Hollywood, but also in New York. Hard rock, American hard rock… if it wasn’t invented in Detroit, it certainly gave it a place to gestate and explode. Even bands like Black Sabbath would go there for a respite, to really get a feel for where they were in the American idiom. They weren’t accepted that way in New York or Los Angeles, but they certainly were in Detroit, so that’s an earned moniker, Detroit Rock City, for sure.

 

Of course, when it was all said and done, your quest did not turn up… the story does not have a nice-pat ending. You got this handful of names, candidates I guess, of accident victims who could have been the story they heard. How confident are you that one of these names is the story really was the story they wound up hearing?NC_article_crop

 

Well, they’re the only ones I can honestly tell you… the only ones that were in print over any of those periods and ones that ended up in Shout It Out Loud.  I went through every KISS concert in those areas for that period of time, and those are the only accidents on record. It’s interesting because over the Thanksgiving weekend in ‘74 that they were in that swath of shows in the South that there was a spate of accidents. There were a lot. It became a story, almost in every paper, there was an eight-piece story about how an extended amount of accidents for some reason during that holiday.

This is why I’m so glad you’re doing this article, and I just mentioned this on the podcast (KISS FAQ with Julian Gil) and I was telling Julian, “If someone out there, because I know they are out there” – ‘My cousin… my friend knew a guy…’”  I tried the Internet, I tried to go on the blogs for KISS, I asked, I threw it out there to the fandom, got all of these different things… “I don’t know the name, but it was a guy, he was 25, and he was coming from…”, but nobody really gave me an actual name or place, so I couldn’t put much of those back-and-forths in the book… but I got the feeling that it’s out there and somebody knows it and they are fairly confident of it. So it would be great if you put this thing out and it made its way around the Internet and somebody saw it and said, “Wait a minute, I’ve got it!” And we can corroborate and we can see if it is true. I was going to get… I just wanted to make certain so I don’t leave you without being certain, because I want to grab the book right now…

I think the town that kept coming up is Fayetteville, North Carolina. Okay.  Here it is. Yes. That’s the one. If you type that into Google or you go on Facebook, you’ll find people that mention Fayetteville faithfully. I was told during my search, and I don’t remember who told me… I think it was… You have to remember it was 40 years ago now, next year it will be 40 years since Destroyer came out… that somewhere in the ‘90s, when it was the 30th anniversary of the thing… whatever the hell it was, the 20th… Fayetteville was really the epicenter for this rumor… there was a huge swell… there was a record store there that had a picture of the kid, or a name, or RIP, or something… of course it’s gone now. Fayetteville was the one place everything sort of comes back to. Outside of Paul’s Charlotte comment, which remember, he only says Charlotte once, he said that in Behind the Mask… He told me, “the South.” I thought it was ‘75 during the Dressed to Kill tour, and I really exhausted myself there, until I got that tidbit from Moose, through Jeff Suhs, who was not with the band in ‘75, he had injured himself and was not able to… he blew part of his hand off with their crude pyrotechnics and was unable to continue… and so he would not have been with the band after that initial ‘74 tour. In my mind, it would have had to have been then, and Fayetteville seems to be the place that everybody…

 

Yeah I mean especially with what you just said about the 20th anniversary stuff, you would think… Here’s a possible lead I can chase. I actually dated a girl in Fayetteville who I’m still very close to… who grew up there during that time period and was very much part of the teenage rock and roll world there. So I’ll pick her brain, actually, and see if she can put some feelers out.  She may at least know somebody who knows.  I’ll try that route, actually, after we hang up. 

 

Oh that would be great. I hope you don’t mind, I’ve been taking…

 

I may get roped into this as much as you were, if I’m not careful. My own obsessive tendencies will have me hooked on this detective history.

 

Well that’s why we’re journalists, or like to write about stuff.  This is eminently fascinating, it does have a sort of American pop culture aspect to it, it is 40 years ago now, plus KISS has a lot of mysteries behind it where they just make up stories for fun. That was the hardest part about writing the book was getting through all of the treacle and the impenetrable KISS facade.  That’s one of the reasons why… even though I really attempted to get their quotes down, you know, Peter and Ace were writing memoirs and I got a lot of deflection from Paul and Gene, but I decided to just quote them from the period to keep them in the period, and I interviewed all of the people around the making of the album because their perspectives were very sober, they seemed very excited to talk about it.  Mainly because they’re not inundated all of the time talking about KISS, this was a chance for them to come out of the shadows of this hug thing called KIS, you know?

I just wanted to let you know for the last ten minutes or so I have been taping what you and I were talking about because you’ve excited me to try and go back in and rediscover some of this stuff, so by talking to you it’s almost like I’m remembering some of the things, and so it will just be for me to review, if you don’t mind.

 

Yeah sure, no problem. Yeah, you’re right. A lot of the band’s mythology is just

stuff these guys have just made up. Gene and Paul are such great marketing brains. And they know how to sort of have fun with the press, and I’m sure a lot of stuff… Yeah as you said, going back to those contemporaries, you know the stuff they would have said at that time I would think should be fairly reliable, you would assume.

 

Because for the most part they were still nobodies.

 

Right, exactly, that’s what I mean. What motivation would they really have had to… fake it in that particular way?

 

There’s still bravado there, but it was almost a desperate bravado. Now you get this stuff from them about the early days “We knew it was good.” No, they didn’t! They were scared shitless, and they ran to Bob Ezrin and said, “Please help us, our studio albums are awful, they sound like shit, it takes us two weeks to record them, we had to record a live album but 75% of it isn’t even live.” And this is the argument I make in the book, and I know it’s dangerous because KISS fans are very possessive, but I’m very hard on them with the early stuff because I think it’s true, I don’t think they really reached their potential until Destroyer. And unfortunately they never repeated what they did on that record. They went back to recording balls-out songs about sex and everything after that… But on Destroyer you’ve got everything from Greek mythology to sadomasochism to torch songs to beseeching, you’ve got introspection on death. This stuff is not in any other KISS record.destroyer_cover

 

Did you try and get the guys in the band for this?

 

Yeah, like I’ve mentioned they cold-shouldered me. When I was working on the book furiously, I was deep in it, talking to the engineers and designers and talking to the guy who painted the cover, Ken Kelly… I kept sending out feelers. I know some people who work for Ace Frehley, he was writing his memoir at the time I was working on the book, now I understand they tell me he’s writing another one… Peter Criss, who lives about 30 miles from me, was writing his memoir and he was going through the breast cancer thing… Gene and Paul are just… unless they’re promoting something or they own it or they can make money on it, they just don’t want to know.  And I understand that. I’m working on a Warren Zevon thing right now, because I love Warren and I think he deserves a book, and I’m working on that with the same publisher (Backbeat Books), and I’m getting a lot of blowback from people around the family and I’m thinking, “What am I doing exactly?”  I’m trying to give him his just desserts. They want to get him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The guy’s been dead for 12 years, he hasn’t been famous for about 30… It’s the strangest thing when people sort of hold you off. I understand I’m kind of making some money I guess you could say, or whatever, off of the legacy of KISS, but you’re not allowed to write history books about rock music? It’s crazy. Without everybody having their hands in your pockets… So they kind of stonewalled me here and there. I was discussing this with a good friend of mine who works for Rutgers University, he works in the archives department, he’s a library scientist and he went to school for history. He said “Look, if you’re going to be a real historian, and this sounds like a history book, you can’t be talking to people 40 years after the fact, they don’t remember. They say things, they make it up, the fish is always bigger that they caught, you know.  You gotta’ go back to the magazine articles and the interviews and you gotta’ get their comments then because that will take the person back.”  And he was right, because I really do think that’s the best part of the book.

 

Oh I agree, absolutely. And sorry to hear that about the Warren Zevon people.  It’s weird sometimes, after these celebrity deaths. The family dynamics get really bizarre and people get really possessive and protective and God knows what agendas each…

 

…family member…

 

…and sibling and daughter and whoever had, so…

 

Yeah, I didn’t expect that from them, so far. But I’m just beginning and I’m hearing it from people close to them, so I don’t know. I hold out hope for the project. I got to know Zevon’s ex-wife after she wrote the book about him a couple of years after he died and she was always very friendly.  Anyway, I don’t want to get into that project, but there is a bit of the overly protective when it comes to celebrity profiles or histories… And I’ve said, I’ll send you the essays I’m working on, and the research I’ve done, I’ve had a couple of his really close friends, his stage managers contact me… It’s still happening, so I don’t want to completely whitewash it… but I’m always stunned when it comes to that. You would think you would want more stuff out there. I understand if they think it’s shit… But the other thing is that I had no interest during the writing of this book of getting the approval of KISS, none at all.  I did not want to kiss any of their asses, no pun intended. I tried to write a history book. I tried to write the best I could about this album I loved. I thought it was underrated and needed a plug, and then I got caught up in it and I realized how fascinating it was.  It’s so cool we’re talking about this particular story, because I was hoping, really, a dark macabre part of me was hoping that somebody would write about this or it would get it out in the ether and I would get the answers I need. I don’t even care if it didn’t make it into the book. Of course, I was torn… “Watch, a week after the book goes to press, someone calls me with proof!” I don’t even care anymore, I just want to know.

 

 Right. And there’s always the chance of a second edition or whatever, or a re-print, or whatever they call it in the publishing world. 

 

Well, I guess if you throw something against the wall… This is not the same thing in any way, shape, or form… I’m always amazed when there’s a missing person… especially a kid, God forbid, or something, and the parents get on TV, and I think to myself, “If my kid was missing, I wouldn’t be able to get out of a room, you’d have to peel me off the ground with a shovel.”  But I understand the reason they go out there is because once it’s out there, now you’ve got thousands and thousands of people on the case, people who are looking and wondering and seeing who looks suspicious… so to have articles, to have the book out there and have people go, “Wait a minute, this guy’s wrong, it was this.” Good. Good. I hope that happens. I want to get to the bottom of this, for no other reason but it’s just haunted me, it really has.

 

Was it frustrating… sorry my computer is screwing up again… there we go… temporary glitch… Was it kind of disappointing, you said it was toward the end of the manuscript, this final rush to get this name; was it disappointing to not have nailed it down, or do you feel it made the book better in some sense to leave the mystery still dangling… just speaking as a writer, was it frustrating?

 

Yeah. I’ll go with the latter, because it sounds better. Sure, it’s nice to have the mystery still floating around, and I’m sure it was nice to at least put some names out there. I think I was right to do it. I battled with it because I don’t want these poor people who died, and I know it was a long time ago, to be some sort of afterthought in some rock song, or in some book, just to get people talking. But I also thought if Paul was going to write a tribute to someone, I think he genuinely wanted to write a tribute to one of the fans, a fan who died, then I think if he could have put the name in there, if he could have remembered it, I think he would have. I asked a couple of people who knew Paul, and they told me this. Because I said, let me at least get Paul back, because I interviewed him years before, and they said, “He doesn’t know any name.  And he probably didn’t read about it. He heard it and was inspired to write this tribute.” It was one of those things… any songwriter, floats in, you go, “Holy shit, that happened? I gotta write about it.” To his credit, he did a really nice job of it, and Bob Ezrin made it into a true rock aria. But to me, as a writer, I was, and I say I use the word haunted… I am haunted by the name and that moment, because I can’t get out of my mind in a weird sort of way… because I do dig drama and as an avid reader I do look back and say, “I can imagine this kid in a car driving, maybe having a joint, maybe he was distracted, maybe he was in a fight with his girlfriend, maybe he was just tired driving 60 miles to see his favorite band and he rolls the car…”  And there but for the grace of God go I, you know? How many times have I had one too many or drove too rapidly or was screwing around, distracted and BAM!

I lost a friend of mine in high school, Sheldon Broner, and wrote a piece about him years ago for some compendium (In Our Own Words). They asked me to write about my generation, which is kind of a lost… I was born in ’62, so I’m at the butt end of the Boomers, but I’m not really a Boomer, because to me a Boomer would be somebody who got naked at Woodstock or protested the Vietnam War, I was seven years old in ‘69, six years old that summer, so I don’t really fit there and I’m not really a Gen-X’er, so I’m kind of in the middle… I remember the Toure book about Prince (I Would Die For You), and he named the generation, I can’t remember what he said… So there’s a part of me that kind of feels like it’s a tribute to Sheldon in a way because when I wrote about him it was all about him dying in 1979 and… look at all of the things he’s missed! And even when I wrote that piece in 1998 or ‘99, it was towards the end of the millennium… we didn’t even have half of what we have now. Tweeting, smart phones, social media… the world is completely different, never mind how different it was in the ‘80s and all of the stuff he missed. So I kind of feel that way, this kid who died on the way to the KISS concert was my age or a little older, and he never got a chance to live his life, so all of that stuff haunts me in a way and I would have liked to at least get the name out there so it kind of finished Paul’s work in a way, in an artistic sense.

 

I get what you’re saying about that sensitivity of… the battle of do I do it, do I publish these names or not? But you know, it was a long a time ago, and frankly whoever this actual individual was… they were a KISS fan. I can’t imagine they would have a problem with being the guy who inspired one of the band’s big songs.kiss1976

 

Right. But if you have six or eight or twelve names, because it’s almost like… you know, when they were trying to figure out who the Boston Strangler was, there were several names. Even to this day, for instance Jack the Ripper: There are history books that they say “This guy was Jack the Ripper.”  What if he’s not Jack the Ripper? Then it’s horrible, it’s in a book! So if I had the one name, yeah, but the fact that I put names in there that might have been Joe Schmo going to get a carton of milk and he finds himself in a KISS book… maybe he would be flattered or humbled to be in any kind of book… but then there’s another part of me that feels… Am I exploiting that?  It’s a small part of it because I think in the end journalism kind of wills out… You’re writing a book and you need to get to the bottom of it and I feel like that was a big part of what made that album, certainly that song mystical, so how could I not at least try?

 

Right. Yeah, and those kinds of things are just a gut call, you really have to think… “Alright, it has been four decades.” If you were talking about people who died five years ago, it just feels different, you know what I mean? And that’s just the reality of it, for better or worse, you know.

 

Right. You can joke about the Kennedy assassination now, but you couldn’t do it in 1965.

 

Yeah, same school of thought I guess. So, I’m just kind of scrolling through to see if there are any quick questions to snag you on.

 

And you can e-mail me too, you have me e-mail if something pops up tomorrow when you’re working on the piece or whatever.

 

Yeah, why don’t we reconnect, let me kind of absorb what I’ve got here so far and figure out when we’re gonna run the story, I’m guessing maybe this Sunday, so I will keep you posted. But yeah I definitely plan on touching base with you again. I also like this idea of this story also serving as this callout… “Hey, if you have any clues or leads, we’re all ears!” And I’ll call my ex this afternoon and actually see what she might know. She’s actually… she herself has lived in Charlotte now for 15-20 years. But she grew up in Fayetteville and she still has family there, friends, and was certainly around in the ‘70s during that time period. So yeah, let me see what she might know.

 

I’ll tell you this though, that’s what I’m saying.  I’m willing to go on record that Fayetteville is the ground zero of this story. At this point, I would be shocked if it’s not. I believe they either played the day after or the day before, so that makes sense if they’re in Charlotte and Paul Stanley reads or hears, “Hey man, last night, after the gig I heard some guy died.”  He says Charlotte because maybe he heard about it in Charlotte because the day before it’s Fayetteville and then… the only mentions anywhere, and the story I heard about that mysterious record store that used to have that RIP or a picture of the kid… it might have just been some guy they were making fun of and just threw it up there… my point is that it definitely happened. There was some scuttle about it, I got it third person, I didn’t get it first-hand, and it was four decades ago and all that other stuff, but I would say Fayetteville was our ground zero for this story.

 

Okay, very interesting.  And you’re right, you can totally see how… especially back in those days, we were talking to people on pay phones. There’s no Internet, you don’t have the cable television station to turn on in your hotel room… Everything is just kind of second and third hand info that’s getting passed along and it’s very easy to see how he would get Charlotte into his head even if it were the show the next night or whatever.

 

I looked at newspaper reports the weeks after. My other thought was… Okay, there’s no way you would report on an accident and know right away that the kid was on his way or back or to a concert.  Whatever concert!  But there may be a story weeks later that they do an investigation and the family says “You know, he was on his way to a concert.” Even if I got that I would have assumed it was a KISS concert.  I would have, simply because of the dates that I had of their shows, I had all of the dates of every show they played, and the times, and how far the accidents were from the places. And as you know, it is convoluted, but that’s the way it kind of happened to me, I tried to trace how many miles, when the person would have had to leave, when the accident happened… so all of that stuff, I kind of became a macabre detective in that sense to try to piece this together. And it all kind of had to connect together. If there was any mention of a concert, or even on his way to a show, or was coming back. That’s why I included names of some of the ones that there were friends in the car, because very rarely does a person go alone to a concert, especially young kids. So, if I noticed there was an accident with two or three young kids… which were quite a few… I tried to include it as long as it was within a certain amount of miles… because I’ve driven an hour and a half to two hours to see a concert when I was a kid. Hell, I did it, so if people say, “Why would they…?” Of course you would. Especially KISS fans! And especially KISS fans then. They were real die-hards at the very beginning, people who just thought that was the coolest thing ever, these guys with their faces painted blowing fire out of their mouths! They didn’t sell a damn record, but people did kill themselves to go see them, no pun intended.

 

Yeah. I think in addition to Detroit picking up on KISS pretty early on, I’ve always had this sense that they built a Southern base pretty quickly as well in the early days. The South, or at least certain parts of the South, jumped on the KISS thing sooner than other markets. 

 

Yes. Excellent point, I forgot about that. I have a Facebook page for the book, Shout It Out Loud Facebook page. So I’ve been getting “likes” over the few months leading up to it, posting interview clips I did and some interviews I did with people interviewing me, or audio clips of me interviewing Bob Ezrin or whomever, and I would say most of the people from the South and the mid-West.  What KISS did was they were the one band that went everywhere. They didn’t care. Their first tour they called the Star of David tour because they would drive to one town and then a completely out of the way and then back again… it made no sense, they would just go wherever anybody would have them. It’s a real grassroots… enviable thing. It wasn’t the best business model, but they did it.  What are those places? Places like Fayetteville, who the hell plays Fayetteville, North Carolina?  But they did it regularly. That’s why it was so vexing, they did it three times on three different tours and I had to keep looking, so people really dug them down there, absolutely.

But I would say Detroit, more than any other place… all of the guys in KISS, everybody, and Bob Ezrin who had camped out in Detroit because of his work with Alice Cooper… unequivocally everybody agrees that that was the place that embraced KISS because they embraced all that kind of ballsy, no holds barred, we’re gonna give you everything we got for an hour and a half – two hours, burning the place down rock… they really were attracted to that. And that’s what Lester Bangs… To quote a great Lester Bangs piece he wrote about heavy metal or heavy rock, and he was equating it to the “rattly clankings” of those people working in the assembly lines building these cars… and they just related to this heavy, literally heavy metal, rock, this is before the term was coined officially… And that makes perfect sense to me, and KISS would always go there as a haven… whenever they were booed or kicked off of a tour or having problems connecting with other places… I would definitely say the South and Detroit were the two regions they would always find solace.

 

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THE SOUND OF THE BARREL’S BOTTOM BEING SCRAPED

Aquarian Weekly
10/28/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE SOUND OF THE BARREL’S BOTTOM BEING SCRAPED
Ten Hours of Political Theater On Your Dime

Holy mother of tap-dancing, four-on-the-floor, zippy-doo-da Christ!

What went on in the people’s capitol yesterday for eleven fucking hours – ELEVEN FUCKING HOURS – is unequivocally the stupidest thing I have ever covered in the 18 long years of penning this column. That is no minor statement. In fact, it may be the craziest thing I have ever written anywhere, and under the influence of all measure of substance, mind you, and that in itself is so off-the-charts bizarre it cannot seriously be dissected by anyone not considered a blithering idiot. Yet, it is the truth.

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I am seriously considering having my attorney look into a possible damages claim against the United States Congress for this brutal assault on my central nervous system and setting the sun on the last vestige of faith that I’ve barely nurtured in what I can only guess is a democratic legal system.

Former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was used by both frothing Republicans and speechifying Democrats as a political football from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm on the 22nd day of October, 2015. Clinton merely appeared to be a bystander, occasionally smirking and always having a snappy answer to long-winded and barely coherent points that seemed to be conjured by a team of chimps on mead. I only watched about half of it and I still have no idea what the point of it was, beyond a fairly decent parody of the “Who Stole The Tarts” court scene from Alice in Wonderland in which sentence is rendered before a verdict as matter of protocol. I once was so drunk in high school I fell asleep in the street under an automobile and I think that was less an affront to my brain cells than this half-assed con-artistry.

I think anyone who watched all of it should never be allowed near children.

If this is how we attempt to drill and convict alleged political criminals now, then I think the ninth, and if there is anything resembling justice to the vocation of journalism it will be the last Benghazi Investigative Committee, will take the next few months to return my tax dollars ($4.8 million and counting – in fact Benghazi investigations have cost in excess of $15 million) for this boondoggle and get onto investigating real stuff, like the U.S. military’s murder of innocent children in Iraq, the continued rampant corruption throughout our entire banking system, and what the hell is going on in this infinite drone-attack policy by the current administration.

Because whatever the hell this thing was, it was a bust. If its goal was to take down Madam Shoo-in, and the cat was left to run wild out of the bag for the last couple of weeks by several committee insiders, all of them Republicans so embarrassed by this steaming pile of bullshit they just came right out and said it was a political wing of the Republican National Committee, then it failed. It not only failed, it turned what at best has been a questionable last few months of stumbling about by Clinton as a candidate, and left her the most sympathetic figure in the last half century of American politics.

Clinton’s testimony ended up to be longer than any Benghazi witness (all of three) in the past year. It was twice as long as her previous two appearances in front of such a committee and even according to statements made afterwards by its chairman, South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy, it revealed nothing new. Hell, this whole ridiculous “investigation” has gone on longer than any in the history of the nation, including investigations on the murder of two presidents, the Pear Harbor attack, the Iran/Contra affair, the 9/11 commission, and the one that kicked major ass for a change, the Watergate hearings. At one point, somewhere around 8:42 pm the woman completely lost her voice.

Now, I am not saying sometime two years ago when this was something of a story, we could swallow this nonsense, but now, in an election cycle with what looks like an unstoppable candidate, it is pure political theater. When you consider what horrible shit this government has perpetuated on the American people over the past half-century of my life, this was not only excessive, it was tantamount to a beheading for scratching someone’s bumper.

Take for example the committee to investigate a far larger fuck-up; the October, 1983 Beirut barracks bombing (33 years ago on the day I send this to press, in fact) that left 241 American service personnel dead, after, mind you, the U.S. Embassy there had been bombed five months earlier in which 61 people (17 Americans) lost their lives. Can you imagine if Clinton had been Secretary of State then and these assholes ran that investigation? She would have likely had to do this for sixty hours in a sleep-deprivation tank after chewing six tabs of high grade acid.

But even if Clinton were guilty as sin, which from what evidence I have seen, she is not, or maybe she is, no one seems to know, least of all this committee of the damned, than this is beyond crazy, it is criminal.

No one got to the bottom of anything for any dead Americans. It failed. Miserably.

And I am sure some lunatic is going to say somewhere on some right wing outpost of logic that this was not a mere political ploy that backfired and turned a victim into an even more powerful force of nature, and so I ask them why did the committee, which did not ask a single question about the infamous e-mails (the entire point of dragging this craziness in front of us again) until after seven pm and mostly during the eight o’clock hour – or in the parlance of our times, prime-time? And even when the rubber hit the road it was a swerving mish-mosh of gobbledygook and a ton of fast and loose from Clinton.

But none of it, absolutely none of it amounts to a hill of beans. No one got to the bottom of anything for any dead Americans. It failed. Miserably.

Unless, of course, you work for the Clinton campaign; it was an excellent display of endurance for a candidate who surely should be asked about her age and the stamina of the office. I doubt highly LaBron James would have taken that much shit for that long.

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A HOUSE DIVIDED

Aquarian Weekly
10/14/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

A HOUSE DIVIDED
Who The Hell Wants To Be Speaker of the House?

You may have heard that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the second most powerful post in the United States government, John Boehner has quit. For the first time in the 226 years of the U.S. Congress a speaker is resigning without either getting a better gig or being kicked out. Usually this type of job is a keeper and those who are fortunate enough to secure it hang onto it like grim death. So then the question remains; why did Boehner walk away from this austere position – incidentally whilst joyfully singing “Zippity Doo Dah” – offering no real explanation beyond repeatedly stating “It’s time.”

House Speaker Boehner Holds Weekly News Conference

There was some talk immediately following the news that it had something to do with the Pope’s visit, which is nice, but goofy. The other less goofy one was his not having the votes to be re-elected, which turned out to be false as it was the previous times this was broached. Another theory revolved around the more extreme Right Wing of his caucus threatening to shut down the government again over the funding of Planned Parenthood under what could only be described by people with a grasp of the facts as anti-abortion falderal. And although that one turned out to also be less than the truth for now, there was a kernel of it in there.

While Boehner, who vehemently denied there was ever any real motivation to defend PP or at least to halt the entire running of the people’s business over a $500 million purse, the very notion of this political suicide is symptomatic of his tenure as speaker. Since the 2010 TEA Party insurgence into congress, the second Republican wave in less than 20 years that put him in charge, Boehner has become the least effective speaker ever. This is not high school hyperbole like “This is the worst tragedy ever!” or “Worst president ever!”, but fact. The 112th through the 114th versions of our legislative branch has done less in its allotted time to govern than any other before.

Boehner’s biggest issue was with the so-called Freedom Caucus of about 50 for whom the idea of governing is an anathema, which I am not willing to deride since that is the reason they were sent to Washington by voters; to halt the march of big government and curtail the tyrannical rule of Monarch Obama and his Muslim hordes. And if that is why they are there, then one has to applaud their gusto, for it has been the sad storyline for centuries that members of congress are elected on some platform they have no intention of forwarding or their ideas are crushed within the first year in D.C and they become part of the very problem they were elected to solve.

However, as the speaker has recently stated on his “I’m going to bury everyone who screwed me” tour recently, the members of the Freedom Caucus promised stuff that they cannot deliver on and thus he is straddled with the anger and disappointment of an easily gullible electorate that believes shutting down the government, filibustering or taking empty votes would somehow override a second-term president without veto-proof control of the U.S. Senate – basic eighth grade civics most Americans who yell and scream and about things they don’t understand, like the Constitution, should know is impossible.

This is why over fifty-percent of the Republican primary polls insist on a presidential candidate with no political background – a doctor, a failed CEO, and a TV star; all promising crazy things that cannot be accomplished under the current structure of U.S. law. And this is precisely why this week Boehner’s proposed replacement, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy removed his name from consideration in front of a stunned and angry gaggle of Republican congressmen and then told the National Review that conservative members wanted things they couldn’t deliver and maybe the party has to hit rock bottom before things improve.

McCarthy is an interesting failure here, mainly because in 2010 he was one of the leading recruiters of the very people he is now calling out for scuttling his chance at speaker. More than anyone in congress he led the charge, financially and otherwise, to bring in candidates with little to no experience in governing, compromise or debate in the structure set up by the third incarnation of our Continental Congress in 1789.

Usually this type of job is a keeper and those who are fortunate enough to secure it hang onto it like grim death.

Of course this seemed dubious to members of the press and as rumors swirled of an alleged affair haunting McCarthy, word began to leak that it was actually moderate Republicans, or at least not those in the intransigent Freedom Caucasus, who began hectoring McCarthy to step aside after he unconscionably told a national FOX News audience that the entire Benghazi Investigative Committee (what is it now eight or nine versions now?) was a secret Republican plot to besmirch former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her bid for president, which unintendedly reinvigorated her stumbling campaign and pretty much neutered the whole idea of the thing.

This chaos has predictably further emboldened the Freedom Caucasus, who spent two days leaking notions that McCarthy was not conservative enough and did not have the stomach to bury the government over Planned Parenthood or any other election year craziness that might come up, which certainly means John Boehner, seemingly a socialist hippie to them, would have zero support to hang on until another “suitable” candidate arises. And so now a man for whom this gig became untenable is stuck for the foreseeable future, which includes another debt-ceiling fight and budget vote on December 11.

A panicked Boehner reached out to former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan to save the day. Ryan, one of the brightest and most stable of Republican legislators to this point has no interest in dooming his political career taking a thankless job in which he will be publically flogged by half-witted dreamers. And while Ryan is an admitted Ayn Rand political theorist, (Rand makes the Freedom Caucus look like a Liberal think-tank) he is first and foremost a pragmatist, and this is no climate for such an animal.

And so who wants to be speaker of the house? Who wants to be two heartbeats from the president and lord over the making of law and handling a multi-trillion dollar national budget? Who wants to lead the leaderless and deal with a president who does not have to be re-elected?

Anyone?

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SYRIA & THE MIDDLE EAST EITHER/OR THEORY

Aquarian Weekly

10/7/15

REALITY CHECK

 

James Campion

 

SYRIA & THE MIDDLE EAST EITHER/OR THEORY

 

The party will soon be over for ISIS. This half-cocked theological throw-back had a shelf life anyway, and it has certainly gone on longer than most sane people could have predicted. But this is the beginning of the end; the autumn of 2015. Mark it down. Countries with more at stake than the United States are now finally getting involved. This was only a matter of time, and many factors are in play.

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The most important of these is the Middle East Either/Or Theory. Although well-documented in the annals of Western history since WWI, this “theory” has gone unnamed except for this space. We have written extensively about how things have gone “either/or” in the region with whatever “country” England decided to stake-out and name for purposes of stealing its resources, namely oil: Either you get a dictator in charge you can prop-up and pay-off to do your bidding and keep the peace or you get chaos. Secular democracies are a pipe dream made up by hippies and people on Twitter. The Either/Or Theory is immutable, something deranged simpletons like Dick Cheney failed to grasp at our eventual peril and bankruptcy.

The Either/Or Theory however has not escaped Russian President Vladimir Putin. He’s going with Either and he’s doing it in Syria.

Russia’s latest “involvement” in Syria has been ongoing since Putin stepped in to order fellow dictator Bashar al-Assad to halt his use of chemical weapons against rebel forces in 2013. This prevented the U.S. from having to police another civil war thanks to President Barack Obama’s asinine Bushian “red-line” bullshit in 2012. Putin could not have us messing with his dictator, and temporarily put the kibosh on Assad’s trampling of international law. Things have not changed much on the ground since. Lots of slaughter, refugees and other civil war stuff.

But make no mistake, Syria is Russia’s problem. Russia made it, supports it, and needs it to be an Either rather than an Or.  It is Russia’s ally and Russia’s neighboring headache. Look at it as one Black Sea away, not unlike the few miles of Atlantic Ocean was our issue with Cuba.
For all his bluster, Putin has been consistent about the Middle East since the 2003 Iraq War, something he was vehemently against since it put the United States military in his backyard trying to for all intents in purposes build a democratic alliance through force. Putin enjoyed Saddam Hussein’s regime and its oil and its stability against Iran and most of the lunacy of the theocratic world so close to home. We fucked that up for him. And now, at least according to his self-aggrandizing, cowboy Reaganesque “We are the world’s policemen” speech at the U.N. this past week, he will not let Syria go the same way.

This is bad news for ISIS.

But it is also bad news for Russia. More on that later.

On top of plummeting oil prices, which has crippled Russia for the past year due to the fact that the 80 percent of the country’s flimsy economic solvency depends on it, Putin was also motivated by Turkey’s all-in to destroy ISIS after one of its ubiquitous suicide bombers killed 32 people in a Turkish town bordering Syria on July 20. More stressing for Putin is Turkey, which refused to allow the U.S. air space to conduct military operations since before the aforementioned 2003 Iraq War, immediately reversed its position, placing another strong U.S. military presence too close for comfort. Remember, one of the key negotiations during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis between JFK and Khrushchev was America’s removal of warheads in Turkey, something then U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy covertly agreed to and then reneged.

This is all good for the U.S., which all along needed Russia and Iran to get involved in this thing for their own self interest and to avoid sending U.S troops into another unwinnable quagmire.

Obama’s ass-covering insistence that Assad be removed is tired Cold War silliness.  He needs to stop that nonsense and embrace these new events that will certainly kick ISIS out of Syria and stomp the current Or chaos in Iraq, where it will tumble into some other kind of conflict like all wars in Iraq. And this will be accomplished without U.S kids dying. Win-win. Half of Obama’s rhetoric, nah, let’s say all of that rhetoric is aimed at appeasing Saudi Arabia, which is also tiring. The Saudis have been waging a fight against Iran on the boarder there for a year now and the never-ending intertwining interests between us and that quasi-dictatorship masquerading as some kind of weird theocratic democracy is sad and pathetic and it should have no bearing on the destruction of a murdering clan disrupting things for too long.

And that brings us to Obama’s finest hour, the controversial Iran Deal, which is only controversial because people with little to no knowledge of the Either/Or Theory, basically the same idiots who screwed up Iraq in the first place, make stuff up about it. The Iran Deal has changed everything for ISIS and put some Either into the raging Or around there.

You think it is a coincidence that Putin has gotten all “world’s police” to stop the spread of terrorism the week after the U.S. Senate blocked any lane for the politically motivated and largely ignorant legislative branch of our government to halt the Iran Deal, thus putting us in a position to share intelligence and use Iran’s monumental struggle against ISIS, a Sunni-inspired insurrection, to our advantage. Read the transcript of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N the same day Obama and Putin presented their face-saving malarkey. This is a man who is embracing being a player on the world stage, instead of some state-sanctioned terrorist organization. For a long time now Iran has been moving away from the piddling PLO/Hamas type nation to one that needs to have a voice in the Or stuff going on next door.

This is all good for the U.S., which all along needed Russia and Iran to get involved in this thing for their own self interest and to avoid sending U.S troops into another unwinnable quagmire.

And not that anyone outside of Russia cares, but all of this is not a good move for Putin. Assad is on his last legs and it may be almost impossible to keep a legitimate government working in Syria past the winter. Russia now owns this country lock, stock and smoking barrel. It is a broke country, as is Iran, truth be told, and it is getting involved in something that could drag on for many years. Putin is well aware of how things went for his Soviet Union in the 1980s in Afghanistan. That was the beginning of the end for that particular experiment and my guess is that it will likely be a bad move here.

But ultimately it is a worse move for ISIS, which has bitten far more off than it can chew and will become a road apple for whatever international shenanigans will keep the air-tight Middle East Either/Or Theory in practice.

 

 

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YOGI – 1925-2015‏

Aquarian Weekly
9/30/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

YOGI – 1925-2015

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was the best catcher in the history of Major League Baseball. He won ten titles, three Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards, finishing no lower than fourth in that category for eight years, and in 1950, maybe his finest non-MVP year, (.322, 28 homers, 124 RBI, 116 runs scored) he struck out a ridiculously low 12 times in 656 plate with an almost .400 on-base percentage. He was a magnificent defensive catcher (never made an error in 75 World Series games) and game manager, calling two no-hitters (Allie Reynolds) and Don Larson’s perfect game, the only such feat in post season WS history. All the while being an iconic World Series (WS) figure: Yogi is the first player to hit a pinch-hit homer, the only player to ever hit two homers in a game seven (1956), there when Jackie Robinson stole home, Bill Mazeroski’s WS winning home run (the most important dinger in the game’s history) sailed over his head, and Sandy Amoros’s running grab, maybe the most famous catch in WS history that helped win the Brooklyn Dodgers their only title in 1955, was off Yogi’s bat.

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He was a philosopher non-parallel, his famous “Yogi-isms” are quoted more than anything uttered by any other athlete ever; and by dignitaries, presidents, movie stars, university professors, cab drivers and street vendors home and abroad. He was beloved by everyone, which is perhaps the toughest achievement of any of what is written above.

But around the Campion household, Yogi was always simply dad’s favorite player. And he is who I called the day he passed at 90.

Why was Yogi your favorite player?

It’s a funny story. I had gone to the game with my father and after the game we went outside and there was a vendor selling these big buttons with players on it and I wanted a Joe DiMaggio button. I mean, Joltin’ Joe was it then, but they were all out of Joe DiMaggio buttons. But I wanted a button! So I told my dad, “I want this one…Yogi Berra.” And from that time on I followed Yogi, from the outfield to catching, and then all of his time outside the game. I was all in. And for me it became a way to be different. I stood out because of Yogi. Everyone went on and on…”DiMaggio, DiMaggio…DiMaggio.” I didn’t go that route. Once that button was pinned on my shirt, I was all about Yogi.

How old were you?

Let’s see…I must have been eight or nine. Yogi was playing the outfield then. (Berra didn’t become a full-time catcher until 1949.) After that I would take the D train from 138th street where I lived on the Grand Concourse to the Stadium on 161st, the next stop past that was the Polo Grounds on 155th street. Two ten-minute stops, two major league ballparks. I knew the Yankees bat boy and he would let us in after school. We’d walk in with him, because he’d get there by the second inning. There were other batboys, but one of them was our friend. But mostly I watched all the games on television, a little Emerson or Philco or whatever the hell it was, and kept score of every play. I didn’t have an official score card, I just made up my own.

So that was during the greatest run of any franchise, from the late 40s into the 50s.

Sure, I saw all those games. They were all day games then, so I’d pick them up later when I was in school. That’s where the phrase “Five O’clock Lightning” came from. The game would get into the eighth or ninth around five o’clock and the other team’s pitcher would tire or a lesser relief pitcher would come in and it would be “Katy bar the door.”

Did any of your other friends like Yogi the way you did?

Nah, only me. They all liked the stars. Everyone loved DiMaggio. And they loved the big sluggers like (Tommy) Hendrick and (Charlie) Keller. But Yogi was the most important cog. He won a lot of games for the Yankees with his defense and handling the pitchers, but also his clutch hits. He seemed to get the most important hits in big games. He was always fun to watch hit. When Yogi was coming up, you’d stop what you were doing. He was something.

Okay, so you get this big button and become a Yogi fan, but soon this guy turns into arguably the best catcher in the game, winning three MVPs and ten titles, more than anyone other than Bill Russell in the history of American sport. I mean, you must have realized at some point you backed the right horse.

He was incredible. He was a great player. You’d don’t get in fourteen World Series and win ten of them without being great. And of course all the no-hitters he caught. He was also a character. The Yankees had a lot of them then, Phil Rizzuto was a character, Mantle and Whitey Ford. That was a time to be a Yankee fan. We won every year. Never got tired of that.

Yogi was a dangerous hitter because he was bad ball hitter, maybe the best that ever played. He could hit anything. He’d golf balls. I saw him golf a ball into the bleachers at Yankee Stadium…literally. The thing had to be two inches off home plate. I mean, you couldn’t pitch to him. You’d try to throw the ball outside, he’d hit it, up and in, he’d hit it. He swung at everything…pitches no one could get to and he’d hit them – three feet off the plate, boom! Did not matter.

Yogi played until 1965 for the Yankees. You’re nine years old when you get that button and when he retires you’d served in the Air Force, gotten married and have your first kid. Could you have felt about another player at that point what you felt for Yogi?

I saw him golf a ball into the bleachers at Yankee Stadium…literally. The thing had to be two inches off home plate. I mean, you couldn’t pitch to him.

After Yogi…ehhh…not in the same way. When you’re a kid and you’re growing up and he’s growing in his career, I don’t know that I ever felt the same way about a ballplayer that I did for Yogi. It’s different when you’re a kid when you have a favorite player. And you have to remember, when I was a kid baseball was it. I mean, you had college football, boxing and baseball, but baseball was by far the most popular sport. Professional football had not taken off yet. We weren’t playing soccer back then. Stick ball back behind the apartment complex or hard ball or punch ball at school. That’s what we played, some form of baseball. And baseball was on the radio all the time in the city, at the beach, in cars, in the streets. It was everywhere. Broadcasters like Mel Allen and Red Barber became as famous as the players.

How did you hear about Yogi’s passing and what were your first thoughts?

I read about it on the Internet. I get my Ipad in the morning and check up on the news and I saw it. I felt sad at first, and then I thought, hell…90 years old. And what a life! He fought in World War II. D-Day. And he was always great to listen to. Yogi was quoted and everyone loved him. He was truly great. I’m glad I chose that button. You wonder at eight years-old why a kid chooses someone to follow so closely and identify with. I did with Yogi that first day. Something about him. Like I said, I was all in.

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JOE COOL DOMINATING‏

Aquarian Weekly
9/16/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

JOE COOL DOMINATING
Don’t Look Now – Barack Obama Is Beating Second-Term Jinx

So far, this has been an immutable fact of the American presidency: Second terms are a disaster. Bad. Filled with impeachments and quitting and unconstitutional shenanigans. Queer luck. Doomed circumstance; economically, militarily, personally. The list is long, and in my lifetime (born in September of 1962) it has been a given.

Until now.obama-sunglasses

So far this burden has avoided Barack Obama (and by “so far”, of course I mean the president has over a year left in his presidency with plenty of time to have something catastrophic or moronic befall him). The fact is the president has excelled in his second term; victories against congress (TPP, Iran Deal), positive happenstance (gas prices, stock market), and a defiant attitude one gets when one does not have to run for anything anymore, which completely condemned presidents for the past half century.

We know the deal (and I consider LBJ: 1965-1968 his second term, since he was president for over a year prior) all the second terms since the Kennedy assassination have been awful.

To wit: Lyndon Johnson ostensibly quit by announcing he would not seek the nomination of his party to run as a result of his historically abysmal foreign policy that sank the U.S. in the nation’s most senseless war ever. His successor, Richard Nixon, did, in fact, quit nearly three years into his second term for crimes committed during his first and a goodly amount of covering up there-after. Ronald Reagan had his Iran-Contra scandal, which for all intents and purposes should have gotten him impeached, but did indict or jail more members of his administration than any before. Then there is Bill Clinton, who was indeed impeached (only president to have that dishonor in 130-odd years), who spent most of his second term being investigated for a series of odd things which led to perjuring himself before congress about an affair he had with his intern. Finally, we have George W. Bush, whose completely bungled Iraq War galvanized the opposition party to take over congress, trumped by the incredibly horrifying federal government reaction to Hurricane Katrina, and then the economic implosion of the Western hemisphere.

Holy shit.

Barack Obama is a glorified amalgamation of Washington/Lincoln/FDR compared to that rogues’ gallery.

But, wait, there’s more: Don’t look now, but the president’s latest victory, the historic Iran Deal that will be his second term’s lasting legacy for good or ill, which could mean hang onto your hats, since he is due for a second-term sinkhole, will not only go through, but doesn’t even reach the usually embarrassing veto stage that looked inevitable just a month ago.

I happen to support the deal, as stated here in July (THE IRAN DEAL AND THE SECRET WAS ON ISIS – Issue: 7/22/15) and after hearing the debate, reading the details, and listening to the objective, non-political commentary of nuclear-proliferation experts from around the globe, it has cemented my belief that this is the best option to integrate a rogue nation into the realm of diplomacy while keeping it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. This is not unlike the Kennedy Test-Ban Treaty, (which if you go for conspiracy theories did more to get him killed than anything else), Nixon’s detente policy and the opening of diplomatic relations with China (his finest and most lasting achievement), and the SALT talks and treaties developed for decades under many presidents, but truly championed – much to the chagrin of similar war-hawk conservative voices as we hear today – in the 1980s by Ronald Reagan (also his finest achievement).

Be that as it may, for a second-term president to spearhead this kind of international coalition with so many countries at a time of heightened strife in the Middle East in the wake of the previous administration’s destructive policies in the region, and a constant barrage of misinformation and doom-speak in the press is nothing short of miraculous.

This deal is, and again I state “so far”, the icing on the cake of a second term that has seen Obama’s most controversial and sweeping piece of domestic legislation, the Affordable Care Act (something I did not and still do not support) survive two Supreme Court rulings, pretty much cementing it for all time as the law of the land, and it has actually not been the coming calamity the opposition predicted; from loss of jobs to death panels and exploding taxes. On the contrary, firstly the ACA has dropped the number of uninsured Americans (16.4 million), a rate of 35 percent; the biggest improvement in 40 years. This was its aim, although I am dubious to its costs and subsidies, which are not sustainable in the long run, along with the other monstrous government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. But, for now, in a charmed second term, not even 17 Republicans running for president think it is harmful enough to even broach. That ship, as they say, has left the dock and will sail on into future administrations.

And although several of Obama’s executive actions (while still not eclipsing his predecessor) have rankled those in congress (the political goal of executive actions), they have staved off gridlock. The most pleasing of all, supported by nearly eight out of ten Americans, the president’s opening of relations with Cuba after 50 years of completely failed policy that was so antiquated it had become a joke. This was the “change” that was supposed come around during a rocky first term, but was mostly ignored, like the emerging marriage equality movement that coalesced during Obama’s second term (thanks in some part to his “evolving” on the subject – a kind of goofy, “get with the program” thing that few beyond yours truly has given him shit for) galvanizing the progressive Left like never before.

We know the deal … all the second terms since the Kennedy assassination have been awful.

Much of this has little to nothing to do with a president, these kind of side issues and perks, like gasoline prices dipping below two dollars for the first time in eons; something no one thought possible in 2012 or the Dow rising from an abysmal 7,500 in 2009 to a record 18,200 before the recent dip, which still sits at over 16,000. But then again the “policies” routinely ridiculed by the opposition has in some way resulted in U.S. economic growth at fairly healthy 3.7 percent, as unemployment rate of 5.1 percent – it was 9.3 when Bush left town and according to factcheck.org the U.S. economy, by far the world’s most stable, has now gained nearly five times more jobs under Barack Obama than it did during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Don’t misunderstand me; there are plenty and varied negatives to this administration, some may point out the chaos in the Middle East, which is pretty much the same chaos that has gone down since the birth of this nation, but I for one have applauded Obama for keeping us out of this nonsense for once (Afghanistan notwithstanding, which has got to end sooner than later for my taste). I argue that most of the president’s mishaps happened during his first term, which historically speaking should have cost him the White House in 2012, but it did not. And granted a second term, he has authored one far superior to those that preceded him, at least since I’ve been sucking air.

Considering the craziness listed above, that is as close to not-crappy as anyone under the age of 50 has ever witnessed.

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COUNTING CROWS: NEXT STOP, AMERICA

8/27/15

Aquarian Weekly

Buzz Feature

 

COUNTING CROWS: NEXT STOP, AMERICA

Lead singer Adam Duritz Talks Evolution of Live Performance, Spodify, Bands Assholes Like, and the Inspiration of R.E.M and RUN-D.M.C.

 

The current Counting Crows tour, which appears to move seamlessly from the last Counting Crows tour, and the one before that, has been promoting the band’s last record, the ethereal and infections, Somewhere Under Wonderland for nearly a year through Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Europe, finally beginning the leg of its U.S. jaunt late summer into autumn…and on and on. More than most, the Counting Crows is a touring band. It caravans entire families and friends across thousands of miles in order to make each night a special occasion. Its lead singer and principle songwriter, Adam Duritz calls it an economic necessity, but in the same breath believes it to be vital to the creative process. “Truthfully, I think a lot of my creativity is satisfied by playing every night,” he tells me. “I don’t necessarily feel the need to write.” With each performance, the songs take on new meaning and subtle and not so subtle changes – expressive, as well as musical.Layout 1

Back home, just beyond the literary and cultural beacon, Washington Square Park, the center of New York’s Greenwich Village, Duritz is gearing up for U.S audiences. Fresh off another successful Outlaw Road Show, this time in Nashville, a three-day, thirty-two band review in which he is co-founder and host (with friend and blogger Ryan Spalding), and gleeful front-row fan, he says without hesitation, “It’s my favorite thing I do, it’s more fun than anything else.”

Random conversations with Duritz has been one of the highlights of my career; whether discussing songwriting, performing, the struggle to achieve, as well the more challenging struggle to handle, fame or just bandying about goofy pop culture and literary minutia. He is a man of various tastes, but an admitted lunatic about music; cherishing its history, absorbed in its influences, and never daring to take for granted his place in it. Devouring any subject I throw at him, he is never guarded, and yet he chooses to share his thoughts carefully. Duritz is, after all, a word man. He provides context to the shifting moods of his band, a perfect six-piece amalgam of equally voracious music freaks that instinctually understand how to serve his songs, build upon them, and then restructure them for fun and art.

The Counting Crows may tour a lot, but they are never to be missed. Maybe that’s why they tour a lot. Performances are always a new and intriguing expression and to be there to witness it is a joy. They are the eternal live act – in and out of the studio – and Adam Duritz is their clarion.

 

When we last spoke early last August, Somewhere Under Wonderland had yet to come out, but you mentioned having played the songs live for awhile, and you were really jazzed about their reception. You’ve been touring this whole past year; Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, so how have they evolved and how do you feel about how they’re coming across on the tour?

 

They’re coming across great. The only thing that’s weird is that we still haven’t really played America yet since the record came out. We did like a week and a half in the Midwest around Christmas last year, because we had to play a couple of little festival shows… but it’s weird we’ve been touring for so long on this record, including a whole summer playing America before the record came out. It’s easy to forget because we’ve been to Europe twice, we’ve been to Australia, New Zealand, we’ve been all the way across Canada…Vancouver to Newfoundland, places I’ve never even been before in Canada… but we haven’t played America. We’re all looking forward to that.

The songs have caught on great, but we thought that when we wrote them too. We thought they’d be great live, we thought some of them were immediately great live. We played “Palisades Park” the entire summer, and it worked when nobody knew it. So it certainly started working when people did know it, it became very powerful. I had a lot of trouble over the summer with “Scarecrow”. It took me awhile to get really good at “Scarecrow”, and “Earthquake Driver”, they got really good eventually. I had trouble finding my way inside them as far as live songs, but that came eventually. It takes a little bit of figuring out how to get your head around things you’re doing live.

 

What do you mean by getting “inside a song”? 

 

Well… you want to be present while singing it… you don’t want to be doing a copy of a version you did before, you want to be singing it as you are there… and I have no problem on songs like “Palisades Park”, which theoretically could be harder, or “God of Ocean Tides, or most of the stuff on the record like “Dislocation”. I knew where to go with it.  I think because “Scarecrow” and “Earthquake Driver” were so strong melodically and rhythmically as they were written I sailed through recording them on the record. I think a lot of that was because when I was singing them on the record that’s the first time I was really singing it, and I was very present in it. When I got on the road with the songs the particular melody and rhythm is so strong in those songs…was so strong in my head…that it felt like I was covering my own song for awhile there. I couldn’t find a way to really… put myself into it, to really feel it while I was singing it. It took me awhile to find my way into those songs. I want to be present singing stuff and I want to sing it like it’s happening right now, whether it’s “Mr. Jones” or ‘Scarecrow”, and sometimes that can be harder the stronger a song is melodically, especially if it’s melody and rhythm like those two are, you get really locked into what you’re doing and it can be hard to express yourself because you get locked into singing a certain thing a certain way.  It took me awhile to open up those two songs, those were the two I had the most trouble with on the record. But they turned out great. Since then “Scarecrow” has been the second song of the set most nights.

 

Are there songs now you’re singing that you prefer the versions you’re doing now to the recorded version, they’ve become this other thing entirely?

 

Sure. Well… I mean from the first album there are certainly songs which I prefer now.  Most albums I don’t really think about preference. We were so young on that first album, there were some songs which I think are great songs that we didn’t really nail in the studio as much as I hoped. They just didn’t get a chance to grow as much. I think “Anna Begins” is better now. I think “Murder of One” is better now. I’m not really sure about that because honestly I haven’t listened to that album in so long… the version on the record is a timeless document and I really wanted it to be one and for the most part it is, which doesn’t mean I’m going to sing it the same way every night. I’m still discovering things every day.  It’s not so much that I prefer the live versions to the other versions, that’s just today’s version. I’ve learned more since then… you know? Yeah, I don’t know if I would say preference is the right word, except for some of the songs on the first album where I definitely prefer them more now.

A lot of our recording takes place live. We get in there, we’re playing in a room together. We’ll work until we kind of get the form of the song we want.  And someone will nail something. It could be a bass part, a guitar part, a drum part… and everyone will go over their parts, but often we’ll just keep a lot for what you already have. It’s not like you’re laying down a drum track and then you’re laying down a bass track, we’re playing all together. Even if the drums are the first thing to go down, it’s a drum track that was played with everyone. So largely when people go back to look at their parts they’re leaving a lot of their parts in there from what was done live. We tend to play live a lot. I think there’s all kinds of interactions going on while we’re playing on the record. We’ll go back and fix things and hone things and develop things… but sometimes the thing you did while you were all playing together is the one.

 

A lot of bands take time off, they’ll write, they’ll get together, they’ll record an album, they’ll tour the album, they’ll break, rinse and repeat.  You guys did a lot of touring even without a record, you did the covers record, you toured even more, you did the whole combination tour where you toured with other bands… then you put this record out and you’re touring it everywhere. 

 

Well… we kind of have to tour. I mean, there’s no other way to earn money. And now the only way to promote your band is tour. Radio promotion doesn’t exist half the time nowadays, so we tour. This is our job. I don’t think there is a structure to it other than make records when you want to make records, tour when you want to tour.  We’re just trying to work and survive generally.

 

I’m glad you mentioned that. I know you’ve run labels and you’ve been in bands and you’ve worked in other bands… I’m just curious what your thought is about the way music is disseminated now… forget about iTunes but even like Spotify, I know a lot of artists are against it, they don’t get compensated fairly for that. It’s very hard for an album to stick now… singles come out and you have your few moments and then another thing comes out… How do you personally feel about how music is disseminated and how it’s affected your profession?

 

Well, there wasn’t a really good mode before, and there’s not a really good mode now. It’s just a different version.  Look, the way it worked before, it was terrible for ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the bands. It barely worked for anyone. The record companies were terrible and they succeeded enough to make some bands really famous, but they failed with an uncountable number of bands. Their methods were so dumb it, they just didn’t work. Most of them bribed radio stations and that worked for awhile, because there was so much money being made, but the last ten to fifteen years the income from record sales is gone, and that’s a lot of money…gone. We’re barely getting paid by Spotify. I understand why someone like Taylor Swift doesn’t want her music on there. She’s famous and she’s selling more than anybody, and she doesn’t need them on there. So she doesn’t. I get that. I don’t blame her for that at all. For us it’s probably good to be on there. I’m glad they’re paying. I don’t think we’re getting paid fairly, but whatever.

It’s not a new thing that record companies are paying bands unfairly. They’re not as concerned with paying bands as they are with getting paid. They’re overly concerned with getting paid. But there’s another side to this, which is that it used to be too expensive and nearly impossible for a band to make records, and it was incredibly impossible to distribute them. It was so expensive to get your records distributed. More than that, if you’re shipping physical CDs on trucks to record stores across America, and if you’re an unknown band, the best you can hope for is they’ll take one or two. And even if they love it, and they tell their customers to buy it, now all of their copies are gone. Now there’s this album they love, they love to sell it to people, but now they don’t have any. And that’s not good. Now it’s cheap to make records, you can do it on your computer. It’s really easy to distribute things because you just upload them onto Bandcamp. That has made a huge difference for musicians but even more-so for fans.  That enables bands to stay together without getting signed by a major label, I have friends that have made seven or eight albums and have never been signed. They’ve had time to get really good. And their bands are stunning. That would have been impossible years ago, because you couldn’t have survived together for that long. It’s still really brutal, but it is at least possible now, where it was impossible then.

So as a music fan, there is a world of great music out there you can listen to and it’s a great time to be someone who likes music. It’s not as clear what you should like, so you have to go look for it, which is hard work and it’s a lazy world… but it’s all out there. There’s so much great music being made nowadays. Like I said, for me I’ve lost seventy percent of my income. That’s brutal. But I’m not so blind that I can’t see that it’s so better for most people. It’s not better for me, but it’s better for everybody else and I’m not the only person in this world. The truth is, as well as being a musician, I am a music fan. As a music fan, it’s better because there’s so much out there that wasn’t out there before.

It’s harder to make millions and millions of dollars, almost impossible nowadays. But it is possible to make music and survive and that’s kind of cool. I don’t know if I can give you a yes or no answer whether it’s better or worse now, because it was terrible then and it’s terrible now, but it’s also better now in some ways. Like I said, not for me as a musician, but as a music fan, it is better. I don’t want to tell you that the record business is shit now, because it’s not, it’s just the record company business has kind of gone to shit.  But it was always shitty, it’s just shitty for them too as well as for musicians. It used to just be really shitty for musicians. Now it’s shitty for record companies too. Welcome to the club. I don’t have a lot of sympathy.

Duritz_2015

 

Do you recall what inspired you to write songs?

 

I can very much remember my freshman fall term in college. I read Carolyn Forché’s book, The Country Between Us, which is a book of poetry. She was a huge influence on my writing. These three things happened that term in college; I remember reading that, I got my first R.E.M record, and I wrote my first song. I think that there was something about the impressionistic nature of the early R.E.M, that first EP, Chronic Town that really hit me that it was all about expressing whatever I felt like…even though I didn’t write anything like it, that it sort of made it okay to write. I remember that was sort of a big deal at the time. I was pretty hugely affected by the Run-D.M.C. records. There’s something about Run-D.M.C. and R.E.M. I’ve always loved them together in a weird way. There’s a way in which the vocals and the instruments flow in and out of each other on the R.E.M records, you don’t even need to know what words he’s singing. Run-D.M.C. is the first stuff I really remember that there could be more than one rapper in a band. They generally said their verse and it passed to the next guy. With Run-D.M.C., they were so interwoven… that was when they started doubling each-other’s words and popping in and out of each-other very quickly. The interaction was much faster the way it is in jazz or the way those R.E.M records were, it was really woven all together. I remember thinking that the DJ and the two rappers were just flying around each other on that record. It was exhilarating, the speed at which they bounced in and out… it wasn’t like “This is my verse – this is your verse…” It was like they were in and out of each-other’s sentences, finishing each other’s sentences; it really made me think about what a band is like in a way.

I know people compared us to The Band at times, but it may have been even more Run-D.M.C. than The Band that influenced me in that way; the way they aggressively moved in and out of each-other’s music. I was really blown away by that, the speed and the pace of it. For me, that translated into what a lot of people see us doing with the interaction on stage and with each other – improvisations you might associate with The Band or Van Morrison, but in my head a lot of it came from Run-D.M.C. too.

 

Your songs are very interpretive, that’s one of the reasons I’ve come to you and really enjoyed speaking to you about them, but in almost all of them there’s a connection between you and the fans that is unique. Counting Crows songs are extremely relatable on a personal level. 

 

Well, I think I had it in the beginning, and I have it now, but there are also periods in the middle where everything I did was shit on, because that’s what happens. We really do love to discover music and we love to be the ones to discover it. Especially me or you, music geeks, we love knowing music other people don’t know, and we love showing it to them. But inevitably you gamble on the success like we did, then as a fan you find yourself having to share the band you like with the dipshit across the office, who you don’t like. And he was always listening to absolute crap music, and now he’s a Counting Crows fan too. Now it’s not fun to be a Counting Crows fan anymore, because I’m not sharing them with that asshole. So for a few years everyone hates you, because that’s human nature. It just fucking happens. I’m not bitter about that, that’s life. I understand what it’s like to discover cool music and I also remember when my band got co-opted by all the dipshits across the hall, who I don’t like. So I can’t really rage too much about the fact that it happened to me. It only happened because we had so much success. It was a little brutal at times.

 

Okay, then, have you been affected, negatively or positively, by your fame? And how has that informed or detracted from your writing?

 

None of that affects how you write songs. You’re in your bedroom at one point… writing about yourself and you really wanted to open up about how you felt.  And then people listen to it. I don’t know… it doesn’t change for me what I wanted to say, I still wanted to talk about how I felt. You’re really just writing to yourself. It’s very tertiary…peripheral that everyone else listens to it. It’s great for your career and earning money, it’s wonderful. But it doesn’t have a lot to do with what you’re doing; especially because during the period when you’re doing it, because when you’re writing and recording, none of those people are around. There is no feedback at that time. So it seems a lot like when you were younger and no one was listening to your music. At some point you do go back to that room and write, and that’s the same as it is now.

When we went in to record our first album, before anyone had ever heard of us, you’re in there recording by yourself.  And when you record now, when everyone in the world knows who we are, you’re in there recording by yourself. The response comes so far after the fact that I can see how people do let it get in their head, but it’s easy to not let it get in your head because you’re not really facing it everyday. You’re not getting feedback as you’re writing or recording, at least outside the band. But that’s always been the same. People worry about that stuff too much. We were always really independent. We never had to bounce songs off our labels. We had that creative control from the beginning. We were always sheltered from that.

 

And you’re finally getting to play these more or less new songs for your home audience.

 

Yeah, it kind of reminds you how big the world is. People wonder why there’s time between albums for bands. It’s because it takes time to get around the world and play it for everybody. So much time, in fact, that it’s been a year and we haven’t played it at home yet. We’re getting to that now. It’s kind of nice, because you might be getting kind of burned out at this point in the record, but it’s great to be coming to America for the first time now. It’s exciting.

 

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WHITE GUY WRITING ABOUT #BLACKLIVESMATTER‏

Aquarian Weekly
9/9/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

WHITE GUY WRITING ABOUT #BLACKLIVESMATTER

I’m Caucasian.

To double-down, I’m male.

Just to make it completely unfair, I am heterosexual, and for a time awhile ago I was Christian, but for all intents and purposes I do not practice any weird or scary or overtly dismissed religion.blm

I have a family. I own property.

I am untouchable.

And while I am a ball-busting, radical, wise-ass, instigating piece of shit journalist, I still have it over about sixty-percent of everyone else, except rich white guys. I do well, but I’m no Donald Trump, and therefore there are some white guys who may have it better, but tell it to someone else.

I ride high.

Basically, I can do just about anything I want and not get any guff. And, to be honest, I do. No one seems to notice me much. If I were to say walk down the street in a fairly suburban neighborhood at ten pm, a cop car would not slow down to check me out or stop to ask me where I was going. If I go into a store of any kind outside of a women’s lingerie shop or a children’s Gap no one would bat an eye. I can even show up to a parade packing several weapons and no one would really care much. Some people might even applaud that I was exercising my Second Amendment rights. And you can bet if I were being pursued by the police, I have a better that 90 percent chance of not being gunned down in broad daylight.

Hooray for me, I’m a white guy.

Now excuse me for a moment while I opine on the #blacklivesmatter movement.

Waxing poetic on a subject I know little about is the inalienable right of the white guy, don’t you know? We have opinions on everything, especially things we cannot relate to in any rational way. We cannot stop telling people what to do and how to do it. We have radio shows and TV shows and blogs and columns in big newspapers. Everyone listens to us. We have white guys that look like us on paper money and there are statues of these and other white guys everywhere in almost every town in the United States. This provides an immutable gravitas to our rhetoric. This is why whenever we’re afraid of progress, inclusion and tolerance we evoke their names, our Founding Fathers. Yeah, that’s when white guys knew the score, right? This is our legacy. We hate it when non-white guys try and tell us what we need to do. This is our gig. Get your own thing.

Face it; you cannot wait to read this white guy’s next paragraph.

Hell, every time we convene a committee on something that has nothing to do with being a white guy, people show up and we grill, say women, on women’s contraception. Even one fat white guy called one of the women testifying a “slut” on the radio and some of us nodded our heads. Of course, we do, we’re white guys. Keep your hands off our stuff, but while you’re at it know this: Whatever is going on in a woman’s body is our business, bub. Damn right. White guys coming through.

This is why we cannot understand what all this #blacklivesmatter stuff is going on about. It is just cop bashing and riling up the bad element. All lives matter, right? Why blacks? Why are they going on and on about just blacks? Don’t they care about racial harmony and how things are better if everyone just accepts things as they are? Shit, the president’s not a white guy, even though six out of ten of us still think he is not American and probably Muslim and is some kind of rigged device to destroy everything. We’re just getting used to the gays getting their rights, now we have this? It’s overwhelming. We thought we were done being afraid of blacks, and had moved onto Hispanics and Muslims. Multi-tasking fear is tough. Wait your turn.

Sure, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice study although 12–13% of the American population is African-American they make up 60% of the almost 2.1 million male inmates in jail or prison. Census data for 2000 of the number and race of all individuals incarcerated in the United States revealed a wide racial disproportion of the incarcerated population in each state: the proportion of blacks in prison populations exceeded the proportion among state residents in twenty states. But that’s because many black neighborhoods are hard and dangerous and there is bound to be a higher element of crime among the poor and desperate, right?

Of course many of these black lives are in prison because of insane mandatory sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s and hardened in the 1990s by white guys, usually old, straight, religious white guys, who had no compunction about sending anyone selling five joints to prison for a dozen years or life for a gram of cocaine. And then all those poor neighborhoods with their dissent into drug use turned them all into criminals and the neighborhoods into dangerous and somehow gave the police the idea that killing someone first is better than dealing with it properly.

Because that is one thing the white guys don’t get, apparently; it is not remotely the same for a society to expect a random person on the street to have the same responsibility and stature as a police officer. This is why when a cop is shot it is a really, really big deal. Cops represent the state, law and order, a society of restraint against violence. When some lunatic slaughters kindergarten children we shudder, we weep, we do more opining, and then we go back to whatever we do to ignore the issue with police and people of color in these neighborhoods.

We hate it when non-white guys try and tell us what we need to do. This is our gig.

When I was a younger white guy, I decided for awhile to chip at my invisible façade and grow my hair long and wear weird clothes and make-up and sing in a rock and roll band. For that short period, five years or so, I was treated very differently. I was looked at more than once when I went into a store and received judgmental glances from many, and was assumed to be a druggie or a fag or a communist or a thug or you know…an undesirable. I was none of those things, of course – although I did dabble in Socialism for about 18 months in the mid-80s after gorging myself on volumes of Arthur Koestler, but I blame Sting for that, who by the way ironically wrote songs and sang in a band called The Police. (Oh, and yeah, the police’s reaction to my speeding was to ask me to get out of the car, so they can check it for drugs and stuff, you know, cause of the hair).

By the end of the 1980s I cut my hair when the band went nowhere and I was back to being a white guy. Admittedly, it was kind of boring at first. I missed having that badge of honor, but it was also nice to just meld into the woodwork. Get back to living a life where I wasn’t discriminated against for the random acts of some who looked like me, despite the actual behavior of my own to the contrary. It was like…I mattered again.

You know, like black lives.

Or #blacklivesmatter.

White guy…out.

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A NEW TWIST ON WEEKLY SHOOTING

Aquarian Weekly
9/2/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

A NEW TWIST ON WEEKLY SHOOTING
Former TV Newsman Kills TV News People on TV

This is the beauty and horror of living as long as I have; you tend to see it all. Well, you think you see it all and then this past Wednesday happens. Former disgruntled local news guy, 41 year-old Vester Flanigan aka fancy TV name, Bryce Williams, shoots 24 year-old WDBJ feature reporter, Alison Parker and her camera man, 27 year-old Adam Ward, killing both, and fatally wounding the subject of the report, Vicki Gardner, the middle-aged director of the chamber of commerce for Roanoke, Virginia. The whole thing happens on live TV and is later posted on Facebook and tweeted by Flanigan before he is run down by local police and shoots himself dead.vester-flanagan

This is a murder/suicide emblematic of our media-obsessed times. A TV guy shoots other TV people on TV and uses social media to promote it. Later, the obligatory incoherent hate manifesto emerged, also posted somewhere on the Internet, where all ugly things eventually reside, like these words, and whatever you will absorb after reading this.

Make no mistake, I am not decrying the Internet or television or social media, nor am I citing it as the only motivation for a kook to murder people, but just like freedom – freedom from invasive and presumptive state or federal regulations on mental health, freedom to own and carry a deadly weapon, freedom to spew odious propaganda online or really anywhere you wish, and freedom for predators to skulk from victim to victim undeterred – it can be a dangerous game.

And as much as it pains me to spend two consecutive weeks discussing the media’s role in events when I have maybe touched upon this ancillary subject once or twice at most in 18 years of penning this weekly column, it does indeed play a role. And it is not something that can be or should be easily curtailed. News happens and news organizations must cover it, some of those news organizations bring cameras and those cameras roll 24 hours a day, five days a week, 365 days a year, and thus are a powerful attraction to the one constant in these random killers, whether terrorists or lone crazies: They dig being covered.

The coverage is a spotlight to the killer; a spotlight not afforded them in their otherwise empty, grueling, oppressed existence. It gives them purpose and it gives them honor, the honor of being remembered for something where they will likely live out their subsistence in crushing isolation and unending anonymity. Vester Flanigan is chubby loner living in a one-room apartment with no job, no prospects, no friends, and as a result, no self-esteem or hope. His alter ego, made for television, Bryce Williams was dynamic, lovable, and good enough to have someone point a camera at and for people to watch it. The management at WDBJ fired the effervescent Bryce Williams and turned him into the pathetic loser, Flanigan.

Sitting in a deli yesterday watching a CNN reporter standing in front of the small WDBJ studios in sleepy, otherwise quiet and peaceful Roanoke, the signs of dozens of other television news outlets crammed around him, surrounding the place, was surreal. Here is a news station, used to covering the news, being covered for a tragedy; a tragedy (again surreal) that had befallen it whilst rolling cameras and reporting the news (or at least some local TV version of news).

I realize bitching about too much news and an overload of information is as useless an endeavor as complaining about too many guns. How much is too many guns? How much is too much information? How much is too much freedom?

For the past 15 years, since 9/11, there has been constant chatter about how much our civil liberties should be compromised in order to protect ourselves from violence. The most egregious was the Patriot Act, but there have been others subtle forms, (racial profiling, protests against the building of mosques, the simple idea of everyone being a watchdog against everyone else “If you see something, say something”) and less so (outlandish airport security, street cameras, frisking at sporting events, etc.). But in every instance there is only so much you can do to protect the citizenry from itself. By nature a free society has consequences, just as one living in a lockdown has its own dark drawbacks.

This is a murder/suicide emblematic of our media-obsessed times.

I have written way too many times to be comfortable about these shooting tragedies and human nature, accepting the fact that by the very fabric of allowing you and me to roam free without harassment in the relative and constitutionally-provided cover of privacy – everyone having a camera on their hip notwithstanding – is a risk we are always willing to make; “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Sometimes, Mista Henry, you get both.

And so, of course, we cannot dissect the allure of the televised murder, anymore than we can have a serious discussion about the amount of guns we have out there, or more pointedly the risk one takes when firing someone that might come back blasting away at the purveyor of his misery. Notice how I didn’t put “his/her” there; it is always “his”, another fun aspect of our male humanity.

It is also foolish to not recognize that by giving infamy to those who would otherwise wallow in a meaningless existence is seductive to these vipers. The fact that I have just written about a guy who a few days ago would be lucky to get someone to nod at him with any kind of socially acceptable street behavior shows that it works. Killing someone in this wildly dynamic manner gives you an immortality you would never get in a million years of being the miserable little shit, Vester Flanigan.

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MEDIA, MONEY & DONALD TRUMP‏

Aquarian Weekly
8/26/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MEDIA, MONEY & DONALD TRUMP

All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.
– Marshall McLuhan

Winning!
– Charlie Sheen

The current issue of Time magazine features an extreme close-up of real estate mogul turned presidential candidate, Donald Trump, whose squint-eyed, pursed-lip Mussolini-like pomp has recently taken on a kind of Miley Cyrus meets Charlie Sheen quality. The text below him simply says “Deal with it”. Inside, there is an article featuring photographs of Trump with a bald eagle perched on his outstretched arm performing his now recognizable thumbs-up routine. This is only one, if not an utterly grotesque example of what has transpired over the past 60 days or so; the tried and true coupling of interesting weirdo being lapped up and shoveled at us by a corporate-backed profit machine known as the media.

trump-prez-fingers

This is always what the media has done well, (see the Spanish-American War, Hearst Publishing, McCarthyism and the Woodstock generation) but since all of the mainstream outlets for news organizations have been bankrolled by huge corporations, whose ratings numbers and advertising dollars trump (pun intended) the faintest idea of news, this is now the standard business model. Of course, with Trump leading all the national and local primary polls his act has now become news, but I maintain it would not have done so on its own momentum, if not for the candidate’s brilliant use of the media to create it. And once it is patently obvious that his shenanigans attracted numbers, all bets were off.

Full disclosure: This whole episode is wildly entertaining to me. I cannot get enough of its “torching the system and blowing up the usual boring expectations of August in off-year politics” – take the 24 million people who purportedly watched the FOX News candidate showcase masquerading as a debate, which four years ago garnered 3.2 million viewers. The Republican Party is running 45 people, 43 of which have no chance of getting its nomination, and unless the nation’s shifting demographics dramatically swing back to its 1988 levels in the next fourteen months, almost none of them will be president. For a political junkie, the Donald Trump Show is a welcomed distraction; especially the stuff about how he has made a living off purchasing the system and how it is a sham and his run is a metaphoric exploitation of it.

This is an art form, and I, for one, applaud it.

Side note: Trump has been at this particular activity for over 30 years in the media capital of planet earth and studied under Don King. He is very good at turning the rote into spectacle. It is a potent cocktail of nature and construct, like Shelly’s Frankenstein complete with groaning.

But let’s not mistake show biz for a grass roots movement.

Another side note: The surge of Barack Obama in the late summer of 2007 that mesmerized the national press, bitched about ad nauseum by the whining right wing as a media creation, was true grass roots, as it came from out of nowhere and built on its own momentum. It is like Obama was punk and Trump is disco. One forged a place into the mainstream by the force of its conviction as fashion; the other was made-up crap jammed down our throats as the fashion.

For someone who has spent most of his sentient existence studying the cross-pollination of creative entities and media manipulation, this whole thing, while appearing mostly fabricated, has legs. Just because it smells like hype infused with a generational pull greased by a fervor for profit, (pop stars, celebrities, etc) does not mean it doesn’t have merit or deeper meaning to some. It does, but it is also a difficult balancing act – one that is given credence through the lens of the television and the Internet; Marshall McLuhan’s wet dream.

There are literally hundreds of examples of Trump getting a pop culture level of coverage, but the most glaring may have been FOX News airing last Friday of one of Trump’s “events”, which preceded a live interview with fellow Republican candidate, Carly Fiorina, whose “outside Washington” thing trolls the lower rungs of the polling. The network pulled away from it to put Fiorina on the screen and then proceeded to not only ask Fiorina about Trump, which is now standard procedure these days, but then cut back in the middle of her answer to the live feed of an animated Trump, who even without sound was more compelling than whatever Fiorina was prattling on about.

The other interesting media maneuver that has benefited Trump is these panels that incessantly discuss why anyone finds him interesting or if his candidacy has any substance. It reminds one of the breakdown panels after some lunatic shoots up a mall and they begin to dissect video games, mental illness and gun control. There is now an industry in “explaining” Trump, as if he is the Yeti.

This is precisely why Trump’s penchant for blurting out the kind of bizarre rhetoric that would bury any other politician does not harm him. In fact, as a pop culture star, it enhances his notoriety. It is another media maneuver that I call the “Hokey Fight Syndrome”, something which ESPN brilliantly pulled off back when people still followed hockey; the network would run gruesome video of hockey fights and add “tisk-tisk” commentary that was meant to show you that while they knew hockey fights were what you wanted to see, they were outwardly appalled by it. Then they would show another hockey fight. Showing crazy Trump quotes and decrying them matters little in this game. They are shown and therefore they are part of the show.

It is a potent cocktail of nature and construct, like Shelly’s Frankenstein complete with groaning.

The media also prefers the carnival barker; “Wait until you see the economic plan (bearded lady) and foreign policy (lizard boy) we have for you! It will be spectacular!” In this equation having a point or even scintilla of a policy platform matters even less than how it is presented; which, of course, neuters the legitimate press (whatever that is) by presenting my good friend and colleague Doctor Slater’s axiom, “You can’t argue with crazy.”

Once this boldly impenetrable character is rolled out and makes a spectacle of what was formally a pretty dull and predictable exercise, there is a clamor to overdose on it. Take the aforementioned FOX debate for example. There were rumblings, and still are, that FOX, well entrenched in Republican politics, had other plans for this race that did not include the Donald Trump Show, and its battle with him turned into a stalemate that had FOX not airing anything Donald Trump for seventy-two hours. This so effected its ratings, the normally powerful medium backed down and went back to what everyone else was doing, “All-Trump-All-The-Time”.

Since I have vowed years ago not to write about presidential politics until at least the September before an election year, I shan’t discuss the Trump campaign’s legitimacy or electoral chances yet. Just know this, while the media can saturate us with something strange, it can and will turn like a wild animal. If Trump is truly a media creation, he will eventually be consumed by this insatiable beast he has appeared to tame. If this is somehow merely a conveyance to his end-game, whatever that may be, then we’re into the real fun.

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