IRAN: SO FAR AWAY‏

Aquarian Weekly

4/29/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

IRAN: SO FAR AWAY
With Apologies to the Ayatollah and Flock of Seagulls

Here’s hoping that a deal can be nailed down with Iran over its nuclear capabilities. Not sure what that deal would be or how it would eventually be stricken, but it is the best course of action now. Not in a few years or when we get a perfect one or whatever, but now.

There will never be a better time to get Iran to capitulate.

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And it doesn’t matter who is president or who runs congress or what type of religious fanatic heads that god-forsaken shit-hole, but this needs to happen and happen as soon as possible.

Due to the collapsing oil market (its chief export), and crippling sanctions, Iran’s economy is in shambles. It is embroiled in (at least) a two-front war against ISIS in Iraq and what amounts to Saudi Arabia in Yemen. And while I think our involvement in that skirmish is misguided to say the least (for this space is on record as being vehemently against the Saudis in every way, shape or form and cannot believe to this day they don’t get more shit for 9/11, but okay, I guess oil is important and I’ll shut up about our hypocrisy in the Middle East, blah blah blah) it has drained Iran of its resources for war and terror.

There is also a real sense now that unless a deal can be worked out, there will be a proxy or outright war with Iran this country does not need, support for Israel or not. It is a war that cannot be won and one we cannot afford, and that, by the way, an overwhelming number of Americans oppose. Aside from tough-talking hawks who NEVER and I mean NEVER send their kids to war, this is a solution that is doomed to fail and because of that it is complete a deal or it is war, and that is it.

Sure, there could be war anyway, say if the Iranians do what Saddam Hussein did for decades and just pussy-foot around with weapons inspectors, but hey, we now know that Hussein was bluffing. Why? To keep the Iranians out of Iraq. Why do you think we propped his sorry ass up there in the first place? The vacuum created by Dick Cheney’s folly has given Iran full reign to their borders and for this they cannot be blamed. However, that is merely the threat of war, wherein without a deal war is imminent. Unless we are not entirely honest about preventing Iran to get a nuclear weapon, which in that case is another discussion.

This brings me to the childish notion that an imperfect deal means no deal. The very concept of a deal means both parties have to leave the table unsatisfied. Every deal known to civilization carries with it this caveat. The last time we screwed around demanding the perfect deal with Iran it went ahead and expanded its capabilities for nuclear weaponry by hundreds of centrifuges.

And finally it is nutso to claim that perhaps years from now a deal may come back and haunt us and so on and so on. Really? Neo-cons are making this argument? Haven’t we placated every nation in the Middle East over the decades for immediate gain, ignoring the long term ramifications, like Afghanistan to stop the Soviets and Iraq to stop the Iranians and please don’t make me name all these, you know what I’m talking about. It is the most specious of arguments against a deal. No deal is permanent and situations change with the times, but trust me the time for a deal has come.

What also makes the timing for the finalizing of a deal with Iran is the bitch-slap the U.S Navy just delivered on its wayward fleet this week. It is always easy for bullies to talk tough, until there is an actual showdown, and in many ways that is what happened in the Arabian Sea this week. Iran not only blinked, it closed its eyes and went home humbled. This is all you need to know about what Iran is willing to endure on the world stage. It is no longer speculation. It is a nation in dire need to make a deal and it is in the best interest of the region that one is struck immediately.

There will never be a better time to get Iran to capitulate.

Make all your lesser points for and against a deal with Iran. Go ahead. I am sure they are all salient. Here is mine, and it will not change; we must not be in any position to have to back up international diplomacy with the threat of war again for at least a generation, if ever. Least of all there should be no consideration to perpetuating such madness in the same region we just screwed up so severely it may take half a century to quell, if at all.

We have to stop thinking we hold all the cards all the time. We don’t Not here. Not now. If anything, we should be damned grateful Iran is on the ball of its economic and war-torn ass. Yes, we must be the more gracious of the two nations. Yes, we have to trust-and-verify. And yes, we have to avoid anymore wars.

We make this deal.

Now.

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MADAM SHOO-IN PART II

Aquarian Weekly
4/22/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MADAM SHOO-IN PART II
Ms. Rodham’s Déjà vu Trail Begins Again

Okay, here’s the deal: Unless she murders someone or is murdered or convicted of an actual crime, or if someone finds the elusive “live girl/dead boy” in her possession, I write about Hillary Clinton once this year.

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This even seems beyond silly now, some five-hundred and some odd days from November, 2016 and a half year before primary season. Granted, this is Hillary we’re talking about; the original Madam Shoo-In, who unlike her male counterpart, George W. Bush (Captain Shoo-In) was not so much a shoo-in. Yet, she is preternaturally compelling; a weird combination of sort of beloved and very much hated. She is the New York Yankees meets Madonna; something far bigger than the actual thing she is supposed to be.

Let’s say for the sake of argument Jesus Christ came back this week. I would have to comment on this, no? And this is not to say I am comparing the possible return of God to judge the heaven and the earth to a Democratic candidate for president of the United States, but absent something that outlandish this is the political equivalent of a Second Coming. People assumed it, had faith in its coming, and now that it has come, you kind of have to observe it as sort of news.

Look, it’s news. Her husband was a two-term president, who for one reason or the other presided over the greatest peace-time economy in the history of this republic and in the grand scheme of things was arguably the finest president of the latter half of the 20th century because of it. If you are going to be fair, which politics is not, but come on; no wars, surplus, booming economy, and the aforementioned Yankees winning the World Series every year of his second term save one. Those were high times. Plus, Big Bill was entertaining. He was impeached. It was Camelot for bankers, lawyers and journalists; a Warren Zevon song come to life.

So, there’s that.

Plus, Hillary Clinton was in this same boat eight years ago and was ousted by the most unlikely candidate possible. I think even those who think Barack Obama is Satan agrees with that one. Before the autumn of 2008 the idea that anyone other than a white, male, Anglo-Saxon (probably Southern) protestant would be president was goofy. Shit, the only candidate who wasn’t all of these things (he was most of them) was John Fitzgerald Kennedy and he cheated, and then they blew his head off.

So, there’s that.

Then there is the fear factor. The Clinton Machine is no myth. It is real and it is humming again and that is cause for alarm and excitement. Don’t think Ms. Rodham strikes terror in all those who do not support her? Why do you think we were straddled with Sarah Palin? McCain and his people knew she was a moron, but they gambled on how much Clinton’s spurned legion would bring to their cause. Why do you think Obama made her Secretary of State? To keep her from mischief making on the sidelines. Why do you think FOX NEWS has already gone 24/7 nuclear on her? When MSNBC thought Chris Christie had a prayer they turned their network into Bash-Christie-All-The-Time. Ted Cruz ain’t getting that kind of wincing respect. Trust me.

AND finally, and even more implausibly, she’s a woman! A woman right now as I write this that has about as clear a path to victory this early than anyone I could recall who wasn’t already president. If they held the election, say, tomorrow or in a month or even at the end of this year, Ms. Rodham would win the damn thing by a fairly sizable margin. This is all hypothetical poll crap, but none of these hypothetical polls are reasonably close. She has 86 percent of her party wrapped up, leads the closest breathing Republican (Scott Walker – and he hasn’t even declared his candidacy yet) by double-digits, and the rest of the field by the kind of spreads that approach Putin-levels.

So, there’s definitely that.

What I am saying is I’m giving myself a pass on making mention that this past week Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her intentions of running for president AGAIN. But I’ll do this once and then let this thing ruminate for about a year. That’s all I have in me. And I am certainly not going to waste my time on people who barely poll at all like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or that guy from Florida, who said something last week about being bursting with new millennium ideas and then supports the 60 year-old Cuban embargo. It’s Hillary and then back to real news.

Hell, if I am completely honest I have to admit that I’ve written probably the meanest, most spiteful columns in my nearly twenty years doing this about Ms. Rodham. I would say pound-for-pound that putting aside my irresponsibly vicious stomping of the deceased Ted Kennedy and maybe my stomach-turning eulogies of Gerald Ford and Jerry Falwell, my pieces on Clinton’s last run is as bad as it gets around here. That is until Dick Cheney kicks it. Then you’ll see a horror show.

Today, even I have a hard time digesting NEW HAMPSHIRE: SAME OLD SONG & DANCE – 1/16/08, THE EMPEROR’S NEW FACTORY GIRL – 3/12/08, THE PARTY VS. THE MACHINE – 4/9/08, LET’S MAKE A DEAL – 5/14/08, and BYE, BYE, MISS AMERICAN PIE – 6/11/08 – all of which include a fine sense of political reporting, but reek of bestial rage.

But if the opening days of this run is any indication she is the story here. Period. Not who wins, but if she loses. Think I overstate this? Check out the media obsession with her fast food lunch choices or where her van is heading next or listen to the torrent of attacks being heaved at her from desperate Republicans candidates – even some not who have yet to declared candidacy like our Chris Christie, (seven out of ten of us Jersey-ites thinks he sucks ass).

She is the New York Yankees meets Madonna; something far bigger than the actual thing she is supposed to be.

In many ways, this is a story about a story. This is not about Hillary Clinton at all. It is about Madam Shoo-In. She is no mere candidate, but an American monolith, a pant-suit gargoyle that reminds us that our choices are few and they come with fangs. Maybe another Bush should oppose her, turn this thing into a dung-fueled dynasty run.

Oh, and by the way, it is important to note, that while the Middle East continues to go wacky, there is no longer a non neo-con in this race. Even Rand Paul has given up the Libertarian charade. There will be war and it will include Americans dying after 2016. Make no mistake, Clinton is an interventionist and so is every Republican running for president. Not sure who will handle the ACA or the deficit or Wall Street or climate change or religious freedom, but mark this down, there will be war; Democrat or Republican.

Okay, I made it.

I’ll see Hillary next year.

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DAN BERN – TRANSITIONS

Aquarian Weekly
4/20/15

BUZZ Feature

James Campion


DAN BERN – TRANSITIONS
New Record Hoody and Tour Marks Uncharted Territory for Singer-Songwriter

It was winter and it was late and Dan Bern was on the phone, calling from somewhere south of El Paso, Texas in his van heading to another gig. This one would be about 400 miles away. He had a few boxes of his new CD, Hoody bounding around in the back and a new Bluetooth unit installed in the old girl, and I am sure there was some coffee involved. He was in the mood to talk.hoody

These late-night chats are nothing new for us. Sometimes they come earlier. Sometimes we’re actually in the same vicinity, the same city, and even amazingly in the same room, but it’s the late-night ones from the road where he gets contemplative and digs deep into his songwriting and his plans and shares tales from these never-ending tours, blessedly separated by occasional spurts at home with the family.

We talked about the new record and his upcoming shows this spring – one of which will take place in NYC on April 23 at the Highline Ballroom.

Here’s part of it…

jc: Hoody features a mature, established style of writing. The vocals are really polished and it seems like a new step for you. I know that you don’t necessarily write for a record, you pick the songs you like the best. But was there a specific idea of what kind of songs you felt worked best with this collection?

Dan Bern: Well they were just kind of the new batch and because of that it felt pretty much of a piece. The previous one took such a long time, Drifter, and I felt when I made it or when I released it, it almost felt, and this has happened before, like I’m already kind of past it. It’s the byproduct of time, like the stars where you see the light later, you know?  By the time it’s out I’m already on to something else. With this one, because we were all able to get in there and basically play at the same time, it still took a long time to finish it, with people going away and people disbursing, trying to get this guy or that guy to complete something, but it was the current crop and it felt like there was some excitement with these songs and with this group of people playing it.

jc: Did you record it live? . 

DB:  Yes, there’s this little studio here where we all live in Echo Park called Pehrspace.  It’s nothing special at all. They do punk shows there after hours; a very cement kind of building, sort of industrial, which I like. I’ve always liked places like that. It was big enough that we could all set up and play at the same time, so I think every vocal of mine was cut live with the band. I may have tried a couple again, but I was like, “I am not going too better ones than those.” I was singing while we were all playing, just kind of locked in.

jc:  Have you ever done it like that before?

DB:  Yeah, I’ve probably done that before. I remember when I was doing the Breathe record, it was the same thing. I was very confident that there was no way that I was going to beat those vocals that I had sung when the thing was being played and I never really could. Anyway, on this one it all pretty much tumbled out. I think Greg Prestopino did a great job, taking what we did and mixing it, putting a touch here and there. I have known Greg forever but we never really worked together and it was a very interesting collaboration. I think we got it as good we were going to get it.

jc: Who are the musicians on Hoody?

DB:  The core of it was Common Rotation, but it’s changed a lot since we did Drifter, for one thing Adam Busch was always like the utility man. He played a little of this, a little that kind of thing. For a lot of this stuff he moved over to the drums, which he had never done with us. I’ve been doing these shows with just me and him and that seemed to work with these songs. Jon Flaugher is a phenomenal bass player. We had two other drummers that were there on different days, Tripp Beam and George Sluppick, who are both top notch drummers.

jc: Do I hear lap steel and that kind of stuff going on in this record? I also hear banjo and I assumed that was Jordan Katz.

Dan:  Yeah, and that’s Eric Kufs that you hear on steel guitar. The real great electric guitar playing is Eben Grace, who has been playing with me since way back in the IJBC days. He’s always been my favorite guitar player.

This stuff is now not the stuff I’m working on to try to complete, it’s like for better or worse, whatever anybody might think about it, it sort of has a string around it right now. Now I’m trying to synthesize some of these songs into a bigger batch of songs that can rub against other things.

jc:  Let’s get back to the actual structure and the writing of the record. When you completed Drifter you said that you felt as though you were putting a lid on the early Dan Bern character, so would you say that this is the first record where, if there’s such a thing as the Dan Bern character from the first eight, nine albums, he’s absent? And if so, did you approach the writing to put that part of your career to bed?

DB:  It kind of feels like a further progression from where we were at Drifter, the logical next step. We’re better as a band. I am trying to become better as a performer and more aware of the audience and connecting better. I mean, just musically my thing has always been tied to old folk and blues, tied to country and British invasion rock n’ roll. Those are my things. I always had a foot in some of that, but after this record it feels like it’s really pretty synthesized, it’s all kind of come together.

jc:  Can you expound on your feelings about your professional and personal transitions that you have gone through and how they’ve informed your work over the years? For instance, can you specifically listen to a record like New American Language or the first record or Drifter and say, “I know where my head space was at then” and how each have been signposts for your career?

DB:  For sure, it’s going to be different for somebody else than how it is for me. It’s my diary, really. For anybody else it’s what they make of it. For me, yeah, they’re little sign posts. It’s funny, I’ve been playing these songs for some time now and now that the record’s out it’s already shifted for me a little bit. This stuff is now not the stuff I’m working on to try to complete, it’s like for better or worse, whatever anybody might think about it, it sort of has a string around it right now. Now I’m trying to synthesize some of these songs into a bigger batch of songs that can rub against other things.

jc: The songs on Hoody are almost all less than three minutes. There are no sweeping ten-verse epics on here, or anything deeply political. A lot of the songs are so meticulously structured you can almost say they are pop-style songs. Was that something that you specifically paid attention to, were you like, “Okay, I am going to try to write songs in quick two verses and get to the point?”   

DB:  It wasn’t intentional, but it was intentional in a way when I wrote them, I suppose. I was working a lot with a bunch of people and we were always trying to trim the fat – you don’t need a second verse, jump straight to the bridge – that kind of thing; just stream line. So that probably also spilled into the stuff I was writing.

jc: What is the main difference between singular and collaborative songwriting for you?

Well, it’s like the difference between doubles and singles in tennis; it sort of opens things up. There’s times when I’m paired with a real melodic guy…or girl, and they know chords I’ve never even heard. In that case, I might be the lyrics guy. And other times there’s somebody who’s a wordsmith and I become the music guy. And then sometimes you’re working line by line together, going chord for chord. It’s really fluid and different every time. You learn to be patient, wait for someone to come up with something that would be better than what I could have thought of. You’re using different muscles than you would by writing by yourself. It’s difficult to write by yourself all the time; nobody to run things by; but if there’s more than one other person involved, things could get derailed sometimes too.danbern-380

jc:  Does almost anything inspire you to write a song?

DB:  Last night I played this brand new theater in Cortez and I was supposed to go on at eight and it was seven-thirty and it suddenly dawned on me this is a nice occasion to have a new song and I should write one about the experience. So, instead of lamenting that I should have had a song prepared, I thought, well I have some time, so I wrote a song about it. I opened the set with it and it killed, it just set the tone. Then I recorded it for the local radio station. It’s nice when it works like that.

jc: Okay, so take me through the process; you’re sitting there you have a half hour to go before you’re going to do a show and then you decide you want to write this song. Do you start with a title or do you write about the theater, do you write about the experience, where do you go?

DB:  It’s all those things. They’re sort of bouncing around. The theater was called the Sunflower and I was the first one to play there and I just made a little joke, a reference to the sunflower being like a girl. And I started singing this thing, “I’m not yours, there will be others, that’s true, but sunflower, I was your first, that’s true too.”  So I was like, “Okay, I like that, let’s start with that.” I wrote a quick verse about just what the sky looked like coming into town, which worked with me being her first. Basically I’m popping her cherry. (laughs) But, it’s all sweet, you know?

jc: I really dug how you just whipped off a verse or two about my novel when I saw you at Mexicali Blues a few months back. I know you’re always reading something or commenting on pop culture, making references to TV and news and sports figures. In that case, are you always formulating songs?

DB: I guess I am; it could be a lot of different things, like you can reference the book or the work or you can reference a character or a place or a thing that’s in the book that sparks something. You can use a character for a model in your own verse. You can take one word and trip off that word and like twenty minutes later you have this whole other thing and then go back to the book again. I suppose people write haiku, short little poems or any sort of musical, literary forms, and you can make a quick sketch too, and you can also really work on a song or a piece of music, but at the same time this stuff is really mercurial. It’s like catching lightening in a bottle; the electrical impulses in our brain, you know? There’s electricity, they move at the speed of light, they move really fast and you can’t always know where these things come from. It’s like when you meet a lot of people in a short amount of time and you’re moving around too and then you’re trying to remember who said something. Maybe you’re at a convention or something and you just met a hundred people and then you try and remember a conversation you had, who it was with and what was said or what the context was. Who knows? But at that point, you’re going to use it for something.

You can use a character for a model in your own verse. You can take one word and trip off that word and like twenty minutes later you have this whole other thing and then go back to the book again. I suppose people write haiku, short little poems or any sort of musical, literary forms, and you can make a quick sketch too, and you can also really work on a song or a piece of music, but at the same time this stuff is really mercurial.

jc: So it ends up in your subconscious and you rummage through that when writing a song?

DB: Yeah, yeah, and you have the most control, more than anybody else, about what your feeding yourself; what your reading, what you’re watching, who you’re hanging out with, how much you stare at your phone versus looking at a tree.

jc: And of course over the past few years since having your daughter, Lulu, you have written and released a ton of children’s songs and you recently wrote the theme song for an animated series, Stinky & Dirty. So I assume having something that profound happen to you has influenced your writing greatly.

DB: It’s true. Recently I’ve begun to realize how insufficient this road thing, driving five, six hundred miles a day to a gig. And I feel like I have all these things – the baseball record and the Everett Ruess album, the kid’s stuff, Theme Park (monthly online show on stageit.com in which Bern plays themed song cycles) and my song workshops – so to drive all this way to play “Black Tornado”, “Hoody” and “Marilyn Monroe” and that’s it I feel like I’m leaving a lot on the table. So I was thinking maybe I could work something out with a local promoter or a theater and come and stay in a town for a long weekend and bring some band mates and Fridays stop at the school and play for the kids and Friday nights for the first half do the Everett Ruess show, then intermission, then do the baseball songs. Then on Saturday do another kid’s show and that evening do the big blowout, rock and roll show. On Sundays I could do a live Theme Park at a small venue and then a workshop. I can hit people on a lot of different levels.

jc: Like “Weekends with Bernstein”!    

DB: Yeah, you know, you could bring the kids like a carnival or a circus stop. I kind of feel like I’m short-changing my audience by being one-dimensional when I have all these other things to offer, you know? Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of driving around and that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NICK HOWARD & THE STRANGE BUT REWARDING JOURNEY OF SONG

4/8/15

Aquarian Weekly 

Buzz Piece

 

NICK HOWARD & THE STRANGE BUT REWARDING  JOURNEY OF SONG

 

By James Campion

For the past hour I have listened to Nick Howard tell his story, and it is whiz bang of a tale; coming to New York City as a cheeky 22 year-old musician from Brighton, England with literally nothing but a song and a dream. Settled in a back booth at Pete’s Tavern, the 32 year-old  /songwriter relives a decade filled with playing clubs and pick-up gigs here and there around town, waiting tables after long days in some dead-end office dirge, recalling his trips back across the pond to swing around Europe making a name for himself. Releasing EP’s and eventually three albums of original material ranging from folk to soft rock to stabs at pop, getting some of his songs on TV shows like Beverly Hills 90210, before an uber-weird turn of events in 2010 landed him on a German version of The Voice (to which he had six weeks to sort of kind of learn the language). And, don’t you know, he goes and wins the damn thing. It earns him a record deal and a car (which he sells to make another record), he blows up with a #1 single that he wrote about Hurricane Sandy called “Unbreakable”, and things start moving for him in Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Then…well, he comes back here and goes back to opening for other acts.

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“After winning The Voice, I felt a bit ridiculous,” quips Howard, fully embracing the bizarre details of his recent past. “You’re playing little clubs in downtown New York for like six years and then you’re suddenly making appearances in shopping malls and headlining a tour with all the other contestants. But I’ll tell you, I was playing to a couple hundred people a show before The Voice, and then over a thousand afterwards.”

He laughs at the memory, sipping tea in that disarmingly cordial, British kind of Paul McCartney way. But then he suddenly grows quiet. After a moment of contemplation, he says with some measure of seriousness, “I wouldn’t say this year is my last chance to make a mark in the U.S., but it’s definitely my best chance.” It is almost as if everything Howard has told me leads up to what he describes as the next crucial step to his incredible story; an upcoming American tour.

And maybe “almost” is understating it a little.

“Most people that have seen me play in the last year would have seen me play solo, so the biggest difference is I am going to have my band. I only have 25 to 30 minutes as an opener to showcase Nick Howard, and now I’ll have an hour. Hopefully those people that are coming have listened to my music and can connect with the songs. It’s definitely going to be another side of me in a more dynamic, musical experience. Now people are finally going to get to hear and see what I’m about.”

This is Nick Howard on the precipice of something big. All that stuff about sleeping on sofas and busing tables and winning German cars, all of it leads to this tour. It is the culmination of our blithely tossing around ten years of his life, learning to work as a composer and plying his trade with and without bands. It all comes down to April 9 when he will, of course, kick the whole thing off at the Rockwood Music Hall in his adopted town.

“The Rockwood is a critical songwriter spot,” Howard effuses, beginning to percolate with excitement over the prospect of kicking off the tour of his life in this little Lower East Side room of maybe 150 people; all eyes upon him, all of them knowing this is an audition of sorts, a precursor for what is to come; an auspicious milieu for someone clutching at the next rung of success.

“I look at the states like I looked at Europe in 2010, 2011,” says Howard. “For me, it’s a blank canvas and I want to build something the way I built it in Europe, pre-Voice, and that is this tour. It’s building blocks; maybe do some radio campaigning and all the rest of it, but for me its touring and live performing, that’s the biggest thing, because without the fans you really have nothing going on, you know? I don’t care who you are, if you don’t have fans you go away very, very quickly. Having toured with Eric (Hutchinson) and Tyrone (Wells) last year, tickets are selling pretty well. So we are off to a good start and it’s going to be about padding that.”

“I’m all about just going for it with love songs. Just tell it how it is.”

I decided to meet up with Howard after seeing his solo performance opening for the aforementioned pop songsmith, Eric Hutchinson last October at the Highline Ballroom. It was easy to hear right away how these infectious songs could be bound for bigger productions, as a more than distracting sign pronouncing NICK in lights hung above him. It was an interesting dichotomy of humble opening act trying to win hearts and minds playing his songs in the most direct way possible while unabashedly being heralded by this bombastic exclamation.

One particular number stood out, a shamelessly transparent love song with a rousing refrain called “Super Love” from his latest album, Living In Stereo. The room seemed to come alive when he hit the chorus and belted to the rafters as open an expression of raw emotion as one could hope to hear in those environs. But the crowd ate it up, proving that Howard is indeed beginning to reach his core audience; those who ignore the shackles of cool irony for the naked joy of song for song’s sake.

“The love song is the one thing that everyone in the world understands and you don’t even need to understand the language,” says Howard, proudly. “I was singing in European countries where people have broken English and they still know what I am singing about because love is beyond words. ‘Super Love’ is just that. It wrote itself. I wrote it with a friend of mine in L.A. (Justin Gray, whose resume includes working with Mariah Carey, John Legend, David Bisbal, Luis Fonsi, Joss Stone, and Amy Winehouse), and it didn’t take us very long. You just go for it, you write a love song. I am not one who is fazed by lyrics being cheesy. I don’t care about that.”

When pressed about toeing the invisible musical line of being openly expressive and professionally manipulative, Howard is defiant. “I mean the song is called ‘Super Love’,” he laughs. “I remember when we made it obvious that this song is not going to be like Megadeth, and I loved that and I embraced it. I think people want to hear that stuff. I’ve had people who have emailed me having heard that song and they have played it as their first dance at their wedding or walking down the aisle and that justifies it, ya know? If someone can’t express how they feel about someone, at least through a song they might be able to. I’m all about just going for it with love songs. Just tell it how it is.”

And telling it ‘how it is’ translates to how Howard prefers to connect to this growing audience.

“I like presenting my songs both ways,” he says, ordering up another tea. “I really like the intimacy of the solo show where you can talk about what you are singing about in the lyrics and you really have people’s attention, but I also love rocking out with a full band. You can do so many more things with a full band that you can’t do solo and vice versa, so I think a nice healthy balance of the two is the best and that’s kind of what I try to do.”

“I really like the intimacy of the solo show where you can talk about what you are singing about in the lyrics and you really have people’s attention, but I also love rocking out with a full band.

Howard gets fidgety when he talks about performing. It is painfully obvious this has been his sanctuary through good times and bad; the stage – his comfort zone, where he can do what he loves, what he has always loved, sharing his talents with people.

“I was really, really young when I got a video of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and I just watched it until the VHS ran out,” recalls Howard, as if it was happening for the first time. “It was the entertainment thing that really struck me, the effect you can have on other people just from singing and dancing. Then I started playing guitar at seven when I heard The Beatles and then when I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be in the UK when Brit Pop came about, Oasis and Blur, these great bands. That’s when I started writing and never stopped.”

NHPortrait_25

Howard embraces songwriting as much as the showmanship bug he encountered at age seven. He composes on guitar and what he derisively calls “songwriter piano”, and his methods vary from working off clever titles that pop into his head or the gathering of random melodies that he snatches from the either and blathers into a mobile recorder. He’s recently picked up the discipline of co-writing, which he admits allows him to get out of his head and share experiences that bring to light more universal themes.

“I find it easier if someone says, ‘Write a song about this today.’  Okay, so now I have something I have to focus on; it has to be about this subject,” explains Howard. “So I try and do that to myself sometimes. I’ll say, ‘Nick, write a song about this today.’ If I just sit there and try to see what the song is than that can work…but it can take a long time. You might spend two years writing a song to see what it’s about. I heard Chris Martin say he has no idea what ‘Yellow’ is about and it’s Coldplay’s biggest hit! Yet he has no idea what the meaning of it is. Sometimes songs are just a reflection of your subconscious or whatever it is.”

Howard’s anxious enthusiasm to bust out in the U.S. is amplified by the fact that he is an independent artist, as are so many of the new and quite frankly established ones nowadays; the record label route becoming less and less an imperative and more and more hampering. “I went through a year on a big label and I played maybe 150 concerts and they didn’t come to one of them,” he sighs. “How can you sell a product that you have never seen?”

And there is the always-enticing creative control allowed by technology and democratized distribution channels. “I think if you can create something by yourself you are in such a better space than just signing to a major label, then it’s always yours,” Howard says with vigor. “With a major label, you’re giving away a lot for a small chance at success. At that point it doesn’t really belong to you anyway. If I want to go play a show tomorrow in Germany, then I can book that in a second. If I want to record a song on ITunes, I can do that in a day. The goal for me for so long was to get on a label, on Sony or Warner. I got there and I was like; ‘Are you listening to me?’ They didn’t even know me.”

Howard has since incorporated (Satellite Music) and runs his own label, which he describes as fully functional, from hiring studio musicians, choosing touring bands, public relations, you name it. And it all culminates – performance, business and music – on his first U.S. headlining tour.

For all intents and purposes these career-defining concerts will feature music from 2014’s Living In Stereo, by his own admission his first collection of pure pop songs that range from hummable ditties, go-for-it ballads, and genre-shifting dancables, all of it acting as a playground for his impeccably emotive vocals. Although deep down Howard considers himself a singer/songwriter in the traditional sense, and his previous work reflects this, the new material is a concerted effort to combine his love of performance with the music. “I was actually thinking about the live show when I wrote and recorded these songs,” he says. “I was trying to make an album that can be a show.”

This makes sense, since Living In Stereo unfurls as if a Nick Howard concert libretto, moving listeners around his many affections for different genres, from his obvious comfortable zone in the romantic ballad “No Ordinary Angel”, the new single, to the upbeat showstopper “Dancing As One” or the playful, “Life Is Great (& I Love Everyone)”and the oddly funk-laden “Laser Beam”, and the aforementioned crowd-boosting “Super Love”.  It also effectively reveals Howard’s penchant to take somber themes with stinging lyrics and place them in a toe-tapping whistler like “You Can’t Break A Broken Heart”.

“I like writing like that because I always think that songwriting is often trying to make something good out of something bad; trying to turn a bad situation into something good,” says Howard. “I think by doing that you can actually deal with something easier by putting a positive spin or flair. So yeah, ‘Can’t Be Friends’ is about having to un-friend your ex on Facebook and stop them from stalking, but it’s got this fun little cowboy, Nashville thing going on behind it. It’s so silly that you kind of have to address that with music. So it’s got this sort of whistling melody in it, which again is a sad idea that your heart’s broken, but by putting a little whistle in there and just making it kind of funny it makes the whole idea of it easier to deal with. I think that is what song writing is, therapy.  So you can achieve the role of therapy with music, even if the lyrics are really dark.”

Howard gives you the whole package, musically and lyrically. Watching him play his unapologetically effusive songs, it’s obvious he cannot hold back, and his appreciation for what the audience expects from him, his relentless pursuit of song as a connecting lifeline between artist and listener, is palpable in the performance. The release of Live in Stereo, a strong representation of his recent European swing, is a fine example of what you can expect when you see him play. Less live album than celebration of fan and performer, it underlines a man and his music perfectly.

But trust me, if you catch Nick Howard on this tour, and you surely should, leave the ironic cool at home and bring the whistling, sing-song, silly part of yourself and just let it go.

After all, this is how he’s completed the journey from that 22 year-old wide-eyed dreamer to the cusp of international stardom; one song at a time.

 

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INDIANA DREAMIN’‏

Aquarian Weekly
4/8/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

INDIANA DREAMIN’
Theocracy Hoosier Style Goes Belly Up

Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
– Matthew 16:6

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the freedom to “hate” and the monumental difference between some college dink singing racist songs and the institutionalization of discrimination. And there could be no better example of the latter than what went down this week in Indiana with its fancy “religious freedom” law.Religious-Freedom-Law

What we are talking about here is the state protecting the right for any business to deny service to a certain segment of people based on religious beliefs without the threat of being sued. Seeing how most of America, specifically a significant portion of the business community, including large corporations like Wal-Mart, along with the political and media contingent, has gone ballistic over this goofy thing, we have to try to see the point, before carrying on our own fun-sized bashing.

Those who drafted and signed it into law, most notably Republican Governor Michael Spence, argue that it is patently unconstitutional for anyone to be forced to serve someone if their customer’s lifestyle is antithetical to their religious belief. And while religion has no bearing on the business world – some purported founders like, say, Jesus or Mohammad might argue the entire fiduciary concept is antithetical to religion itself, but let’s not approach that easy conclusion – it does prevent frivolous lawsuits from mucking up the court.

Sure, who wants the right to fight discrimination in court?

The other argument for the law is that it is religious freedom that is being discriminated against. Shouldn’t people be able to do anything they want based on their religious beliefs, including ignoring civil right laws?

Nope.

That kind of nonsense is called theology, or to use the Islamic term, Sharia Law. This is just the Christian version.

This is no law that protects religious freedom. It is a cleverly spiteful rejection of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality that is being fought vehemently by atavistic bigots all over this great nation. And yes, if you think another taxpaying citizen does not deserve the same right as you based on the difference in their skin color, gender, sexual orientation or whatever, you are indeed a bigot. It’s fine, live with it. I too am a proud bigot. I think people who base legal precedent on religious beliefs are idiots and should get over themselves and their half-baked illusions and stop pestering the intellectual and cultural evolution of the rest of us.

Feels good to admit it. Embrace your bigotry.

However, take that bigotry and make it law, we’ve got problems.

Fun pertinent fact: Indiana is the birthplace of the Klu Klux Klan, but I digress

First of all, religious freedom is already protected by the First Amendment. It is clear and no one has ever argued this. When marriage equality is the law of the land, and it will be, so please stop being the horse-and-buggy set trying to stop the advent of the automobile, no church, synagogue, mosque or Scientology hall will be expected to, or more to the point, be forced to conduct gay ceremonies.

The government or the shift in cultural winds can and will never intersect with religion. That is sacrosanct and it should be. Since embracing the beauty and majesty of the Rastafari, I am glad local officials are allowing me to smoke my faith’s requisite copious amounts of ganja unimpeded.

The previous notion of fantasy was brought to you by hypocritical discrimination against certain religions that don’t fit in with the fascist evangelical narrative. We now return to our screed already in progress

Let me be clear, even though I think religion is an insipid and dangerous tool of the oppressed, I am not mocking its use. Feel free to be a snake charmer for all I care. It’s just that when you speak in theological terms it is impossible to balance the morality of your customers. You see, if you are truly a Christian insulted and disgusted by the homosexual lifestyle and you feel it condemned by your God, then you must also be careful not to do business with anyone who is divorced or has coveted anything at anytime in their lives or failed to honor their parents or killed anyone, and by the way, good luck with that. We have all killed; you and me. We give money to the government and that government drops bombs on people, thus according to scripture and the Ten Commandments, we are murders, period. You want to be true to the letter of the almighty God? Face it, our bigotry is the least of our issues.

What I have described above is cultish behavior. America is not a cult. It is a republic based on laws, one of those very important laws defends your right to believe and worship to your heart’s content, but it is not an easy-pass to heap those beliefs on the rest of us and it sure as hell doesn’t provide the avenue to make a law that enforces an individual’s religious belief over another’s civil right. That is what political scientists call coo-coo.

Also, do we now have to pass a litmus test to see if someone will take our money? This is where we’re going? If I gamble, I can’t get a milkshake? What about my choice of hair style or code of dress or if my type of music is questionable? And, by the way, who decides this? God?

Which God?

And once you pick the God, I assume it will undoubtedly be the Christian God, which is a Trinity God and is adhered to the existence and teachings of Jesus Christ, who said, and I paraphrase, to not judge lest you be judged and who was absolutely without question an anti-religious revolutionary who surrounded himself with “sinners” and pissed on the Temple and its leaders with unflinching glee. That God? Yeah, okay. Nice try.

That kind of nonsense is called theology, or to use the Islamic term, Sharia Law. This is just the Christian version.

But, alas, stupidity has its advantages. This thing was so off-the-charts dumb it has scared the shit out of people who couldn’t care any less if gays marry or not, but are not so sure they want some religious nut-job deciding whether they can get a cup of coffee.

There is a pretty good chance that Indiana will be this generation’s Stonewall. It could and should place the final rung on the ladder to marriage equality and eradicate once and for all this latest in a long line of discriminatory laws and battles to keep our citizens from equal rights.

Go Hoosiers!

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MIDDLE EAST BLOOD JUGGLE

Aquarian Weekly
4/1/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MIDDLE EAST BLOOD JUGGLE
or How To Hold Onto A Fistful of Rain & Not Have Too Many People Killed

Now that the bloody coup in Yemen has finally transpired and anarchy is the rule of the day, things have become extremely grim to the greater hopes this country harbors for a manageable Middle East. This has been our red herring since before World War II. It is our addiction; the junky U.S. Hell, this finger-in-the-dam illusion had its moments, but it also has an expiration date, and it has come due. blood_juggle2

Untenable is a kind word to describe our current events there, another more accurate has a military slant, FUBAR. And while the United States, in all its completely delusional might, believes it has a hand in this – beyond the hand that helped usher this inevitable madness along – there is little that can be done beyond containment. And the containment option did not work well for the British or any previous empire, so good luck with that.

Yemen certainly complicates things on the Iranian front. All this talk about Benjamin Netanyahu’s grandstand in front of congress a couple of weeks ago and his shameless flip-flop-a-go-go re-election being some kind of influence on all this is laughable. The United States is influenced by Israel the way a jackhammer is curtailed by the sidewalk. Israel is America’s bitch. It will do what we tell it and shut up when it needs to shut up. If this was up for debate then the U.S. would have let Israel retaliate during the first Gulf War instead of sucking it up. Israel exists to put fear into OPEC, nothing more. Netanyahu may be fooled by his influence, but we should not be.

No, Iran wants chaos in Yemen and the U.S. does not, or let me rephrase that, Saudi Arabia does not. And while there are strong indications that at least something can be resolved in slowing down its proposed nuclear ambitions through a multi-nation deal and its role in fighting the suddenly uber-important spread of ISIS, Iran cannot be allowed to mess with the Saudis. The U.S. is Saudi Arabia’s bitch and therefore we must put our cards in another cultural civil war that no one will win, but we will somehow be responsible to clean up.

Before we continue our review of FUBAR 2015, let’s get a few things straight: Every time the United States has conducted any military operation in the Middle East it ends in disaster, including the first Gulf War that appeared gangbusters until it lead to the emboldening of Saddam Hussein and its left-overs convincing congress to invade the nation and turn it into a tinderbox. Not to mention that we suck at war now. It is so bad that no one, not even the hawks in Washington, take this option seriously anymore. I have heard moans and laughter at events connected to early presidential campaign stops by Scott Walker and Ted Cruz when they start talking about military solutions in Iraq or Iran. No one with half a brain thinks the U.S Army can do anything but further inflame the Middle East, so believe me when I tell you that anyone who makes this point in congress or running for president is patently insane and should be shunned and humiliated.

This mess in Yemen also uncovers another marching line in our parade of delusions, Syria. The gory quagmire that is left of this country has been yanked into the ruin of Iraq and the Iranian issue due to the fact that since ISIS has become the enemy du jour both the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. has called a tyrant and worked with the Russians to curtail his use of chemical weapons on his citizens, has been an invaluable ally, along with, you guessed it; Iran. The Russians, embroiled in its own international quagmire in the Ukraine, has stood with the U.S on both fronts; supporting Syria’s fight against the push of ISIS and putting the screws to Iran over its nuclear program.

By the way, Russia scares the shit out of Netanyahu, and it should. One of the reasons, among many self-serving and some arguable, that he has gone ballistic to scuttle any deal with Iran. Something the IDF will not admit, but knows could be a problem, is Russia’s meddling in the Middle East, since OPEC has imploded its paper thin, oil-based economy in the last four months. Suddenly the pivot for Russian President Vladimir Putin to arms deals and ISIS killing could be a tricky problem for Israel, who spends all of its defense policy propaganda on Arabs.

Here’s a fun kicker; as recently as this week Iran, in a Netanyahu/Putin type photo-op maneuver to try and not seem too cushy with the U.S. and appear to not sell-out its country’s myopia decided to cease the defense of Iraq’ city of Tikrit against ISIS in protest to the United States’ continuing bombing campaigns there. This proves that once again while the military might of the U.S. resonates with the UN and the “we have to do something” crowd, it only mucks up the works.

This brings us to the final bit of juggling, and that is something we have covered here for sometime; the Sunni versus Shiite undercurrent, which is not so much an undercurrent as the primary reason for these weird alliances and bizarre massacres. There is and will be nothing 21st century diplomacy or military action can do to put a fancy ribbon on this nightmare. It ends in annihilation. And while it seems defeatist and nihilistic to suggest such a thing, it really makes no sense to try and put the proverbial square peg into the round hole either. No amount of money, negotiations, fast talk or tough talk or more to the point bombing or dead Americans is going to change this fact. It is the worst of civil wars, a religious/cultural one. And to be involved, which we definitely are, folks, whoever is president or controls congress or what year it is or who stands on what side of the ideological fence, will lead to bloody ruin.

Untenable is a kind word to describe our current events there, another more accurate has a military slant, FUBAR.

However, I think it is important for the smaller voices – mine being one of them – to at least point out the futility of trying to get this thing under some semblance of control. It was that kind of hubris that pretty much put this stuff in motion. Whether it’s the Shah of Iran creating the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini or the bolstering of Saddam Hussein to combat Khomeini or the ousting of Hussein to protect OPEC or the Mujahideen to combat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan or the second Iraq war to combat Hussein or whatever it is you call what is going on now, it is not a means to a positive end. Never has been, so what should make a difference now?

Okay, so maybe you say at the end of this, what is the United States supposed to do, nothing?

I ask: Has the United States tried doing nothing before?

If nothing is the alternative to our fingerprints being all over this horror show, I say, yes, nothing.

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THE EQUALITY OF HATE‏

Aquarian Weekly
3/18/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE EQUALITY OF HATE
Or The Delicate Balance of Us

Here’s one thing we know; bigotry, in any way, shape or form is never going away. Okay, so maybe if a meteor hits the earth or it floods over like 98 percent of scientists claim or if a mass virus kills the human race. Otherwise, failing that kind of calamity, bigotry is a keeper. Whether racist, misogynist, homophobic, jingoistic, cultural, religious, anti-rich, anti-poor, anti-government, idiosyncratic celebrity loathing, the idea of arguing that this is somehow rare and abhorrent behavior is silly. Everyone has negative thoughts about some people or some things, just as we have positive thoughts and opinions about other things. This is called humanity. It is what we are and it never fails to astound me that it surprises anyone, much less engenders the kind of sudden outrage in us. It’s as if people are slapping their cheeks in amazement that the sun is there every morning.thomas_jefferson_portrait

Humans – all humans, everywhere for the entire time they have been around – judge; harshly. Sometimes we do so with reason (a familial or cultural guidance, or an experience, both personal and general) and often for no good reason at all. Not everyone can know everything, and many of us refuse to enlighten ourselves to the basic panoply of humanity anyway – and even if we did actually know everything, the enlightenment would likely lead to a myopic conclusion that would only serve to feed the existing ignorance we cling to like a lifeline. Humans casually find something troubling about whatever it is that is different or whatever it is that makes them feel uncomfortable. It’s our thing. Anthropologists have pretty much concluded that it’s our main thing.

I think we see these notions as pretty much fundamental truths of being able to use our senses and our sense-memory and our nature-v-nurture to form completely reasoned or irrational fears and hatreds for some other group of people. It is patently wrong to consider this a deviation of the norm or a form of monstrosity. Hatred is a pure emotion, like love. It is a waste of intellect and energy to fight this. It just is. Our nature can no more change than our basic DNA. We have hair and fingernails and brains that immediately differentiate one thing from another, and this allows us to group people and construct generalities about them that eventually evolve into either worship and inspiration or devolve into bigotry and revulsion.

Most behavior, even acceptable social types of behavior, is engrained. It comes from a primal place; like people believing in angels or being afraid of spiders or feeling more comfortable in cities as opposed to the woods or vice versa. It stands to reason that if you are more adapted to one thing then the other thing would appear to be something you do not like. It’s not only ignorance or the fear of the unknown; you just don’t like it. Period.

I get the feeling sometimes, like this week when that video of the frat kids from Oklahoma were singing some frat song about “niggers”, that we see this as a shocking occurrence because it reflects in each of us what our own set of bigotries rears. It really doesn’t matter what these kids were singing; could have been “faggots” or “cunts” or “kikes” or “crackers” or “towel-heads” or “fascist right-wingers” or “liberal weenies”. Because when I hear any of these terms I lump them all together into a coagulation of our basic impulse. This is not unlike people trying to figure out why a man would arm himself to the teeth and go out one sunny morning and kill kindergarten children or why people plan for years to hijack planes to ram into giant buildings or what the hell the Nazis were thinking. There is no actual, reasonable explanation for these actions (admittedly and thankfully, all of these are outliers to normal bigotry), but rest assured these reactions are purely based on the natural us-v-them mentality that is made manifest in the core of our humanity.

I have no idea why these kids found it joyful to sing songs with hateful lyrics about a race of people anymore than school pride giving them a sense of self-worth. If someone wants to whittle these reasons down to youth or booze or peer pressure or a cultural miasma, or even if they wish to see it as endemic of the Southern culture rich with anti-everything-but-white-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant rhetoric, actions and traditions, they certainly can. But as much as we cringe to accept it, these are humans doing human things, just like the celebration of the Selma March last week was our society celebrating humans displaying human things, like rationality, bravery, passion, solidarity and defiance against institutional oppression.

This is why Thomas Jefferson could very well be the American avatar, and precisely why he was chosen to pen what would become our Declaration of Independence; a man who aimed for the highest honor of humanity in demanding our engendered equality while at the same time owning humans. He is our yin and yang. He fills both our base nature and our highest aspirations. Jefferson is our collective id and super ego, our ethos and pathos; a vain, racist, dreamer, poet statesman; the shining symbol of our schizophrenia.

This is precisely why you should ignore talk about our society being post-racist. This is like saying Americans are post-human.

Sure, I was stunned, and still am, that this nation elected an African-American president and considers a woman the frontrunner to succeed him. Stunned. Not because we have not come a long way from slavery and lynching and denying basic civil rights to taxpaying citizens or allowing women the right to vote and kind of coming close to earning what a man earns in the workplace and no longer finding it charming to being treated as if not deserving a crack at dignity, and we are kind of sort of coming to terms with the idea that anyone regardless of sexual orientation can play in our social sandbox. Nope. It’s because it was done in the face of our deepest desires, to judge something not the “norm”, or whatever it is that our traditions allow, as unacceptable.

Okay, so that brings me to the second racial story of the week, the shocking (being facetious for a moment) revelation that the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department has been working under a racist construct. This is where, as Jefferson rightly saw it, human nature must be curtailed. Of course cops are humans and therefore have prejudices as stated in the previous paragraphs, but when it erodes the systemic nature of law and order then it needs to be changed. This is how the Civil Rights Act gets done. This is how suffrage succeeded and how marriage equality will rightfully soon be the law of the land. In other words, people can continue treating each other as if some are better or worse than others, but the system shall do all it can to never reflect it.

Hatred is a pure emotion, like love. It is a waste of intellect and energy to fight this.

This is the difference between some asshole screaming racial epitaphs during a sporting event and a racist owning an NBA team. This is the difference between some goon from the neighborhood telling you that women who are raped cannot conceive a child and a senator espousing it. This is the difference between people being afraid of Muslims and an Alabama law that curtails their religion. This is the difference between people protesting against Planned Parenthood Clinics and states systemically reducing them. And this is the difference between a dickless frat boy singing songs and a police department targeting African Americans.

You see, the concept of America, at its best, really, is when we take human nature and put it on systemic trial. We accept through free speech and a free press and a democratic open system of government that we would eventually make sure that none of it is corrupted by our baser instincts. Freedom is at once being able to hate and not let it discriminate who gets to hate more.

We shall all hate equally.

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WHERE THERE IS NO THERE…THERE

Aquarian Weekly
3/11/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

WHERE THERE IS NO THERE…THERE
The Perfect Political Storm Rolls In and Out of Washington

The dubious but utterly entertaining Washington news this week centered on a speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered to the United States Congress. Sold as some kind of diplomatic mission of great import between unwavering allies with undertones of disrespect for normal international and domestic protocol, the event was entirely political in every way, shape and form. It is anything but rare to have pure political theater transpire in D.C. – that’s pretty much the point of it – but for those of us enamored with such shameless showboating this one had a singular quality. It was the Hope Diamond of political theater, an aurora borealis moment, a political junkie’s Woodstock, if you’ll allow.obama-netanyahu

In a nutshell this baby was Shakespeare’s yummy “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In this case we had three idiots; heads of state butting over diplomatic policies starring a lame-duck president reconfiguring a foreign policy legacy, a lesser party of power using the legislative branch of the U.S. government as a backdrop for another country’s national election, and a prime minister desperately trying to use this unabashedly staged affair as a campaign cudgel.

Classic shit.

But remember, this is all political melodrama that means less than nothing beyond the massive egos involved. Like most playacting, whether by children on a sugar jag or dogs rolling on their backs soliciting belly rubs, this is pure grandstanding for grandstanding sake.

Let’s dissect:

What Netanyahu claimed to be accomplishing with this maneuver was to stress his county’s concerns over an ongoing diplomatic deal being hammered out by the Obama Administration and Iran to halt its alleged nuclear weapons development. On the shiny surface, considering the madness that is Iran, this seems like a reasonable gesture if one ignores the history of Netanyahu as a fervent veteran of the Israel Defense Force during Israel’s most triumphant military moment, 1968’s Six Day War, and serving fanatically in the special forces unit, Sayeret Matkal during its most aggressive period of raids in the late 60s, early 70s.

Simply put, Netanyahu, the first ever state-born secularist Israeli to become prime minster, is, has been, and will always be embarrassingly unaware of anything approaching the concept of diplomacy. He is a military man and has made no bones about it since he emerged on Israel’s political scene in the 1990s. I was in Jerusalem in the spring of 1996 the day he was handed the gig, standing within a stone’s throw of the Western Wall amongst a weirdly agitated and euphoric crowd bellowing erratically in both Arabic and Hebrew. His election was immediately divisive and he served his first term with unapologetic intransigence rarely seen in his position, which is the power arm of America’s interest in the Middle East.

Granted, the argument for Netanyahu’s heralded trip here among those who are not the Israeli prime minster is that Iran has spent decades shouting this and that about obliterating the Satan that is Israel. Yes, and the sun comes up tomorrow. Netanyahu, whose only plan is military force, was already laughed out of the United Nations for telling the world Iran was weeks from having a nuclear weapon in 2012. Nothing new here, except that it includes one key factor; the prime minster is up for a heavily challenged re-election two weeks to the day he delivers said speech. His country is mired in economic and housing crises due to his apparently abysmal domestic policies and he’s being investigated for some kind of tax fraud.

Shit, it was never hard to figure Netanyahu out, which is an enviable trait. He is as transparent as they come, unwaveringly patriotic and fervently paranoid, a dangerous combination in the region in which he plies his trade. But he is also a pathetic megalomaniac with no compunction about using any method available to him in order to increase his bloated sense of personal destiny; in other words, excellent D.C. material.

I remember lying in bed in my hotel room at the Galei Kinneret on the banks of the Sea of Galilee watching Netanyahu during the first prime minister debate ever to be internationally broadcast and conducted entirely in English, and this is what I wrote in Trailing Jesus, the book I was researching in May of ’96: “I am enamored by the slick movements and sharp quips of a tanned and silver-maned Bibi (his nickname), tossing aside notions that he will ignore all but Jewish Israelis if elected. He is articulate and funny, and does not hesitate to confront any issue with aplomb. The more calculated and efficient (Shimon) Peres is insightful and poignant, thinking out his answers before replying, but he barely talks above a whisper and does not possess a single dramatic hand movement to accentuate his points. Peres, I decide before drifting off to sleep, is doomed.”

So you have a bold, Teddy Roosevelt character working out a deal with the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives when he was denied access to the Capital by the White House due, according to the Obama Administration, to an unwritten bullshit rule that heads of state not interact when one is embroiled in an election season. The rule is bullshit because it happens all the time, too many to note here. Simply, both the president and the prime minster were engaging in competing political grandstands. The former teetering on the final stages of either a triumphant, groundbreaking deal with one of the great enemies of the Middle East to cease its supposed march to nuclear capabilities or a disastrous appeasement of a rogue nation, and the latter strategically using its most powerful and influential ally to appear vaingloriously imperial.

For his part, House Speaker John Boehner used this opportunity to stick it to the president. Once again, on the shiny surface, Boehner, and his place as the national face of the Republican Party, appears to side with the tough-talking Netanyahu and his dire-speak of siding with terrorists being the bane of the free world. The move, proffering this unprecedented invitation to a prime minister during an election campaign against the will of a sitting president, gains him much needed political points with the core of his party, who has recently made him once again look like a feckless tool of obstruction. After spending days condescendingly assuring the national press that he had a deal in place to fund Homeland Security, his constituency jobbed him by voting it down. He is weak and ineffectual and needs this bad.

Like most playacting, whether by children on a sugar jag or dogs rolling on their backs soliciting belly rubs, this is pure grandstanding for grandstanding sake.

Of course, for his part in this passion play, the president could have avoided all this by ignoring the unwritten bullshit rule to quickly and quietly meet with Netanyahu and send him on his way. However, in another calculated maneuver, Obama’s snubbing of a prime minister had less to do with avoiding the influencing of an election and more to do with Netanyahu screwing around with his precious Iranian deal by yammering jingoistic nonsense in his nation’s capital building.

For all intents and purposed, a foreign primes minister suckered the United States Congress into hosting his campaign shenanigans, a U.S. president looks completely inconsequential on the world stage, and Benjamin Netanyahu continues his unchecked public buffoonery. This was the political equivalent of a perfect storm, something you might find once or twice in a lifetime outside an outlandish Hollywood script. But none of it, none, was news. Showbiz rarely is.

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MISE EN DREAD

Aquarian Weekly
2/25/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

 

MISE EN DREAD
In Praise of Cabaret

Je suis enchanté

When preparing to write about a musical this week, I noticed something interesting; outside of politics and social issues, the occasional – almost never serious – foray into sport and pop culture, and the odd, completely sideways satirical stuff to entertain myself, I have dedicated a noticeable number of columns to plays. And it curiously finds its way into Reality Check. Now, this means next to nothing to readers of this space, especially those on my mailing list and where this thing ends up in syndication or on the Huffington Post and blogged all over the Internet. This is mainly because many of those readers have no idea I write about music, review shows and interview performers in the guise of my Contributing Editor position at the Aquarian Weekly. I usually separate my intrigue with the arts and mostly pop culture to another side of my readership. All that stuff is on my web site, if anyone’s really interested, which I am almost sure you are not.24cabaret-blog480

Yet plays find their way here, and sometimes television or a smattering of films too. I may have written about five to ten films in the 18 years I’ve penned this column, and that’s pushing it and probably includes documentaries. But the plays, the live theater experience, and how it fits into what I guess I deem as the audience for this column, appear to have been my choice to share. And this will be one of those times.

The theater experience of seeing the 1966 musical, Cabaret (which I only knew previously from stills and the ultra-campy 1972 film of the same name) that is currently staged at the Roundabout Theater in the original location of the notorious Studio 54 (best known for its 1970s ultra-decadence of overt sexuality and drug frenzy set to disco music) is stunning. The entire place, echoing the ghosts of Manhattan glitterati, is decked out as an early 1930s’ German cabaret with scantily clad waiters and waitresses gliding beneath seductive red lights amidst a generally gory atmosphere of mischief. Alcohol flows and music is forever peppered throughout the place.

And that is cool and I highly recommend going to the thing for that alone, however one aspect of the experience in particular struck me about the play; its wonderfully conflated hyper-sense of mystery and dread. It is akin to a kid’s ride at Disney wherein every part of the outer senses of reality is jettisoned to reprogram you. And then the music starts and the play begins and the dancers and emcee are in your face and you are partly entertained, but mostly stricken by something deeper.

For those unfamiliar with the plot of Cabaret, I will leave you to check Wikipedia, but the overall theme is simply a glimpse of a damaged society submerged in the insatiable craving of the human id, shedding the terrible notion of a collective for the pure, unadulterated joys (or numbing) of hedonism, which is bitch-slapped into the stark reality that they are suddenly expected to be fascists. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

The characters caught in this swirling epic are not unlike those in the 1997 film, Titanic; there is a Somerset Maugham type romance between a mostly lazy and probably delusional American novelist visiting Berlin to “be inspired” (yuk! yuk!) and a freeloading young English girl, who misinterprets her slutty existence for stardom (a Paris Hilton who can carry a tune). There is another middle-aged romance between a patrician flophouse owner and a Jewish fruit salesman, who she falls in love with and then kicks out to avoid Nazi persecution.

The backdrop for all of this is, of course, a cabaret, wherein performers (including the band, which plays Kurt Weil style music live on the stage) in all manner of suggestive undress, sexual orientation, and frighteningly Goth stage make-up, cavort to playful drinking tunes with lyrics that celebrate screwing, substance abuse and money. Their ringleader, the emcee, patrols over the activity, at first leading its mayhem, and then observing its fallout – constantly hovering over its inevitable disintegration like Poe’s raven, and, then, in a moment of brilliant satire, joins its destruction at the hands of monsters.

What was memorable for me and the wife, who incidentally hates musicals, but loved this and counts it as one of the two to three finest things she has seen on Broadway, is that the horror of its subtext, which is toyed with in the film from what I recall, is laid bare and put up as if Kristallnacht set to oom-pah music. It is that amazing sense of disjointed dichotomy that you are tapping your foot to racist-induced murder, and not in that playful Sweeney Todd, bawdy English way, but the subversive German balls-to-the-wall-not-interested-in subtlety-it’s-time-to-get-real-Nietzschean way. You know that way? No? You need to see this play.

This version is directed by Sam Mendez, who made the last great American film of the 20th century, American Beauty, which I am pretty certain is one of the five-to-ten films I wrote about here, and is wonderfully performed by its two stars, Emma Stone (who will have been done with her run by the time you read this, but from what I hear is ably replaced by Sienna Miller) and Alan Cumming, who is so terrifyingly hilarious and erotically threatening, his visage and voice do not easily fade from your consciousness long after the music wanes and your wandering down 7th avenue in a slight snow shower and you settle into the Monkey Bar on East 54th and wonder what the fuck just happened? Was I supposed to be entertained by this or transformed?

I know I’m getting into Dorothy Parker territory here; “disorientation is the font of transformative theater”, but there is something about art that punches you in the gut. Maybe it was the four Hendricks’s and tonics I swilled during it, but there is a lasting affect to Cabaret that hits from all angles.

It is that amazing sense of disjointed dichotomy that you are tapping your foot to racist-induced murder

Okay, I am sure there are people reading this right now wondering if this is even an endorsement for something they would want to endure, like when someone gets off a insane rollercoaster, falls flat on his face, gets up, and begs you to go next. But for me there is hardly anything better in musical theater than the “If You Could See Her” number sung teasingly by Cummings, twirling an extra in a gorilla suit, and pulling the audience in the front row into the performance and garnishing laughs, beseeching, “Why can’ they leave us alone?” and then hitting them with the final, concussive lines; “I understand your objection/I grant you the problem’s not small/But if you could see her through my eyes/She wouldn’t look Jewish at all.”

Then the entire theater goes silent. I mean scary silent, as if all of our respiratory systems shut off.

And the lights go dark.

And you can see and hear dread.

 

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THE SCOURGE OF BRIAN WILLIAMS & OTHER THINGS

Aquarian Weekly
2/18/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE SCOURGE OF BRIAN WILLIAMS & OTHER THINGS

It is important to reiterate an obvious dictum: What is done here weekly hardly represents even the slightest hint of journalism. Yet, somehow I consider myself a journalist. I was trained as such by some of the finest minds I have met in my time shuffling around the mortal coil. Yet, my idiosyncratic playfulness in the face of actual journalism (whatever that may be) is a mockery and therefore holds little to no credibility here.Brian-williams-burt

I also need to state that I find that most of the history of journalism in this country – a microcosm of the world at large – has been a heinous goof. I can randomly choose a story from any decade through each century of this democratic experiment and you would, depending on your sensibilities, either be laughing hysterically or horrified. If your sensibilities fall in the category of the overreaction to Brian Williams’ embellishing on and then fabricating a war story from 2006 then you would lean toward the latter.

However, presenting all of that as a preface, I must say, for the record, Brian Williams can no longer seriously continue as the managing editor of the National Broadcasting Company’s news division anymore than he can sit with a straight face and read us the news every evening. He may come back from his suspension (without pay, which is significant when you consider the man rakes in $11 million a year to read aloud in front of a camera; great work if you can get, it, but you can’t because you suck at it), but it really doesn’t matter. We think he is most likely full of shit and that is a detriment to trustworthiness.

It’s like the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl despite cheating their way there. No one with a real sense of facts and decorum think the Patriots title legitimate, but they still won and have a trophy and no one is going to care now, because there is a lot of money and the integrity of the sport at stake and everyone needs to remain silent to this grand deception, so we all feel better about ourselves for watching it happen. We will do the same for Brian Williams on the surface, but not really. We will know he lied about something for little reason but to be interesting, like all of us might lie about stuff to appear interesting or cheat to win a sporting event, but we don’t represent a vocation or a network or a conglomerate trying to perpetuate the idea of being trustworthy.

And let’s face it, trustworthy is such a thorny concept that it’s hard to fathom. There was a time when Walter Cronkite could go on television and tell the American people that the war in Viet Nam is lost and that it was an abject waste of human life and treasure and we kind of accepted it. It cost Lyndon Johnson a second (or third term, depending on what you think those months after JFK was slaughtered counts) and it certainly fueled the campus uprisings that pretty much pulled the wool from the eyes of an entire suckered generation.

But, be that as it may, Williams has some lineage to Uncle Walty, “the most trusted (there’s that word again) man in America”. And for that he cannot be trusted and therefore needs to find something else to do with his time. Maybe he can move into the one place he feels most comfortable, entertainment; the man has appeared on more comedy shows doing bits and/or sitcom appearances than anyone who has ever attempted his job. There are pretty good sources that insist he lobbied to take over for Jay Leno when he boogied from the Tonight Show and maybe that would have been best. No one gives half a fart if Jimmy Fallon makes stuff up; they half expect he will – for laughs.

But before we go, we do need to point out that Williams also comes from this latest generation of network-climbers, both on real television or basic cable (where the real lying hits the highest or lowest bar). This was glaringly palpable during the ramp up and execution of those first crucial months of the terribly bungled fabrication that was the Iraq War, arguably the worst abuse of our government since Watergate, and the national press not only slept on it, but galvanized its ascent, as in giving it a fancy name – Shock & Awe, and embedding its most cherished personnel into the Pentagon’s shenanigans. The most disgusting of all, anchors wearing flag pins covering the action as if it were the World Cup.

My favorite NBC News moment was when in 2002, as the case for war was being pitched by the Bush Administration, the vice president’s office leaked a bogus story to the NY Times about Iraq possessing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons – known today in journalistic circles as the “aluminum tubes ruse”, and then sent Dick Cheney on Meet The Press to quote the article as fact. It is one of the great pieces of underhanded criminal activity ever perpetuated by a sitting vice president, and he used the most trusted forms of the American press to pull it off. Great stuff for Cheney, not so much for the press.

Brian Williams? Well, he is the symptom, my friends. The disease may be harder to “suspend without pay”.

But we covered all of that gory nonsense here as it happened, but now it is ancient history and we ignore it or accept it, because it makes us feel better to do so. In fact, those that backed George W. Bush now claim that President Obama enjoys the same snoozing national press corps, and can you blame them for whining?

Take John King, who still culls a paycheck from CNN despite having told an international audience in the wake of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack that suspects had been apprehended, describing what turned out to be the bogus suspects for nearly an hour. The NY Post even piggybacked this blatant error and splashed on its front page for two straight days these erroneous figures, both of whom turned out to be innocent, with headlines like “Monsters”. Hell, CNN also wrongly reported the Affordable Care Act had been overturned by the Supreme Court and aligned itself with the networks to call Al Gore president of the United States in November of 2000.

And then there is the clown show that is MSNBC and FOX NEWS. Whew, where do you start there?

Brian Williams? Well, he is the symptom, my friends. The disease may be harder to “suspend without pay”.

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