NELSON MANDELA – 1918-2013

Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

NELSON MANDELA – 1918-2013

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances others.
– Nelson Mandela

You will read and hear a great deal about Nelson Mandela over the coming weeks, but for me he will always be a revolutionary. But, as my friend, Dan Bern once wrote, “a true revolutionary”. Faced with the horrors of institutional oppression, Mandela affiliated himself with the “by any means necessary” axiom, cloaked in desperation to be free, to free his people and all of the people of South Africa. It was not always pretty, but revolution never is, and while we today and, let’s face it, through most of our lives on this planet tend to judge the way in which people scratch and claw for liberty and justice, it is through their efforts, and the efforts of people like Nelson Mandela and his revolutionary descendants that we can take inspiration in the thorny notion that “what is” does not have to be “always”.

Among many of the egregious crimes of civilization, Apartheid in South Africa seemed to encompass all of them at once; mandela277colonialism, institutional racism, cultural intolerance, international political and economic apathy, fear born of ignorance, abject violence and the general disdain for humanity. It went on for nearly half of the American Century during which South Africa became one of the biggest and most reliable of the U.S.’s Cold War trade partners. In other words, instead of denouncing tyranny or supporting a free South African state, the U.S. government supported the minority white-dominated government to fend off the Soviet Union’s infiltration of African resources.

Thus, many of Mandela’s supporters were communists, most notably Fidel Castro and his Cuban revolutionaries, which sympathized in every way with the African National Congress and its failed attempt to peaceably and legally challenge state sanctioned racism, wherein no one of color had any rights. Even by the mid-fifties, already politically charged and extremely active in the resistance, Mandela realized that his efforts to protest were doomed and that the ANC was, not unlike the Irish Republican Army or the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a title not of the system but against an unjust system.

Mandela, as we would come to see as events of his incredible life unfolded, was about one thing; freedom. His politics and his methods shifted with the times, but he never wavered from that single mission. And unlike so many before and after him, he put it all on the line; from Gandhi’s civil disobedience to guerrilla warfare. Mandela knew the score. It was okay to be an African nationalist and democratic socialist, but it makes no damn difference if what you are, a man, is denied the right to exist.

When Mandela was arrested for the final time in the spring of 1964, he had become one of the faces of the resistance, having co-founded the Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation, which had begun terrorist attacks and general acts of sabotage against government installations for nearly three years. His charge, rightly so, was for treason; the same fate that the signers of our Declaration of Independence would have suffered had things not gone their way in the late 18th century. However, while Jefferson and Adams and Washington would have surely been hanged for their revolution, Mandela was jailed in barbaric conditions for 28 long years.

I first heard the name Nelson Mandela through the efforts of Amnesty International, which I had joined in 1986 during my truly radical political meanderings as a singer in a rock band. There had been a recent groundswell of anti-Apartheid activists beginning to hound the U.S. Congress to override a veto by President Ronald Reagan of crippling sanctions against the oppressive Pretoria Government. I was duly shocked, and it would be maybe only the second or third time ever in my dealings with actual political movements, that congress did, in fact, impose the sanctions by a vote of 78-21, which slowly began to reverse America’s support of Apartheid, although U.S. businesses and banks seemed not to care.

Turns out that Mandela’s time in prison as a political dissenter did more for his cause that the over 200 acts of sabotage and sedition ever did. The shadowy titles of guerrilla communist insurrectionist were replaced with freedom fighter, long before that term was abused by aborted American creations like the Mujahideen, which later became al Queda and unleashed the hellish decisions of Cold War paranoia and international manipulation on 9/11/01. Mandela withstood his jailing, because he never once denied being a revolutionary and that his cause had been and was just.

Faced with the horrors of institutional oppression, Mandela affiliated himself with the “by any means necessary” axiom

His victory, ultimately, became not with his release in February of 1990 after spending what would be a quarter of his life in prison or the eventual dismantling of Apartheid three years later, or even his calls for unity among all South African peoples, but his becoming the first democratically elected president in 1994, and building from scratch a new order, the one he could not let go through “any means necessary”. And like George Washington, the titular father of this nation, Mandela died this week as the father of South Africa. After his work and symbolism of unity and stabilization, he refused to remain its literal figurehead and stepped aside to enjoy the fruits of a lifetime of revolutionary labor.

His was the life of a revolutionary, and Nelson Mandela remains for those of us who once believed in such haughty ideals as change and upheaval, its modern symbol for the grand price that is paid for a glorious legacy of revolution in the cause of the human spirit to breathe free.

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Aquarian Weekly

 James Campion


Lincoln’s Oratory Masterpiece Heralded The Modern Age Of America

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

lincolnNow we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

-Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, November 19, 1863


One-hundred and fifty years ago on the day this hits the streets, Abraham Lincoln presented his address on the hallowed grounds of an American massacre. With a slight tremor in his voice, one that had the tendency to screech into strange registers when emoting, his words “echoed through the hills”. He read from his fifth draft, hardly peering up, and never breaking a stoic resolve. When he was finished, the silence, it was reported, lasted an excruciatingly long time. It was the silence, one witness remarked to a New York City reporter, “of the dead.”

Only five months earlier, just beyond the incline where Lincoln stood, the Union Army met General Lee’s Confederate charges over a three-day period of the most horrific slaughter ever realized on American soil. Until then, the Civil War had been in doubt. Despite riches and industrial strength and overwhelming human numbers, the devastation had dragged on for three gory years. Gettysburg changed that. Lincoln knew it. His words echo it.

At 278 words, it is a masterwork in brevity. Not one wasted; each a pillar for the next. It is less address than prayer; an American poem. Mostly, it is an invocation of the heretofore empty promise penned by Thomas Jefferson in his Declaration of Independence. The idea that a man who owned human beings from a place that thrived economically on the egregiousness of slavery would dare aspire to such lofty notions as “All men are created equal” and not in the eyes of law or sovereign or bloodline, but by an omniscient being grasping at the very notion of liberty.

The Gettysburg Address is not a point in history; it is history. Therefore it moves, like time.

Before Lincoln, before Gettysburg, and before those 278 words, that was all it was – rhetoric reaching pathetically at a dream. It was word, not deed. This is why Lincoln’s pronouncement, leaving nary a sliver for interpretation that “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here” would realize the truth of Jefferson’s vision. Eleven months after the Emancipation Proclamation, which would begin to dismantle our national disgrace, the inhuman bondage which would make a mockery of the lie that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is available to all, these words would float like a distant bugle call over the fields of battle.

It was with these deeds and words that this nation known as America was founded. Not in Philadelphia or Concord or those dark years between our extrication from the British Empire and 600,000 sacrificed from the moment the first cannon ball slammed into the ramparts of Fort Sumner. It is Lincoln’s “unfinished work” that is before a nation so full of Jefferson’s promise, and long after a lunatic actor put a bullet in the 16th president’s skull it remains, as it would remain then. The genocide of Native Americans and the long struggles for African Americans and immigrants and women and so many that succeeded them.

“The great task at hand” is always at hand.

This is why the Gettysburg Address is not a point in history; it is history. Therefore it moves, like time. Not to be shoved in a canister or placed behind glass. That is for fallen nations and buried ideals. Lincoln’s words were not and are not a command or a call to duty. It was and is not a rousing rhetorical spire or a solemn dedication to the blessings bestowed on his office, his nation, his place in the pantheon of the American God.

The Gettysburg Address was and is still the wish, the hope, and the vision of America as a concept, Jefferson’s dream come alive to evolve and continue to seek what its author once mused are “our better angels”. It is without question the greatest set of ideas ever uttered by an American citizen about the density of our purported ideal that we indeed “always shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


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James Campion

Chris Christie’s Enormous Victory Heralds Serious Presidential Credentials

Make no mistake about this; Chris Christie, Republican Governor of the Garden State, is running for president. His recent rousing success in this bluest of blue states among women, blacks, Hispanics and even moderate-to-conservative Democrats has made a strong case that he may be the only shot a GOP national ticket has of making a dent in what will likely be another beating come November, 2016.

Christie’s Election Night victory speech, which I watched on a projector screen in the private campaign christie_75 suite of Westchester Country Executive Rob Astorino, was as much a clarion call for his inevitable run for the White House as it was a warning to those entrenched fellow Republicans who have made mincemeat of their opposition to Democratic rule in the Senate and the Oval Office in Washington.

“Now listen, I know that if we can do this in Trenton, N.J.,” Christie said with a purpose. “Maybe the folks in Washington, D.C. should tune into their TVs right now….” The governor, an imposing heft of a beast, who breathes from the mouth as if trapped in an anti-gravity chamber, hesitated for just the right amount of time to let this sledgehammer analogy sink in, then, looking straight into the camera – something I have not seen a single candidate do in this setting – concluded in an almost 30’s gangster style; “…see how it’s done.”

The crowd at the Astorino camp cheered. Their candidate has more or less competed on the same plain as Christie in the second richest county in the United States for the past four years. Westchester, like Jersey, is mostly made up of Democrats. Both men took on unions and government agencies in an uphill battle to try and lower taxes. The results vary for both. I live in Jersey and can tell you Christie’s bluster has done nothing to lower mine. In fact, taxes at the Clemens Estate have risen considerably under this so-called conservative, but that is a bitch for another time.

Moments after Christie’s stare-down moment, an ipso facto launching of a pre-campaign campaign for president of the United States in 2016, my friend announced to his staff, family and friends that his opponent, Democrat Noam Bramson had conceded. Soon it was Bramson dominating the suite’s wall-screen giving a very different speech; jeered by some, but mostly met with silence. I knew nothing of Bramson or the campaign he ran, but it was easy to see why he wasn’t a match for my longtime friend, who is as polished as they come.

Funnily enough, Astorino was called “the skinny Christie” for awhile. So it made perfect sense both would be claiming victory again on the same night for the second time in four years. However, while many in the Republican Party have been more than hinting that the second term County Executive take a shot at the governorship of New York, there is little question Christie will not be serving out this term as NJ governor. He is running for president.

Watching a rebroadcast of his speech around two am, dogged by a serviceable amount of gin, it was easy to deduce his high minded lecturing about working across the aisle and chiding fellow Republicans, specifically the Washington crowd that has caused self-inflicted wounds in a battle against what they perceive are the evils of big government. “We don’t just show up in the places where we’re comfortable,” Christie tutored. “We show up in the places we’re uncomfortable.” Christie spent the rest of the speech driving home the concept of embracing government and not infusing it with ham-fisted inertia for the sake of ideological fisticuffs. The idea is to govern, of course, but first the idea is to win.

And The Fat Man has the formula, at least in Jersey.

While the national numbers look so abysmal it might take four generations for a Republican to once again gain access to the executive branch of the federal government, the state level figures for Christie are staggering.

Christie put his hat in the national ring with the subtlety of a bull elephant in heat.

Within the unfathomable 60 percent of the vote he carried, which is a feat for either Democrat or Republican around here, Christie dominated the independent vote to the tune of 66 percent, an absolute must for any national candidate in a growing anti-party affiliation environment. To the GOP point, his 51 percent of Hispanics and 57 percent of women are difference makers, not to mention three out of four working-class white voters; the famed “Reagan Democrats” needed for the party to have any shot in 2016.

Now, Christie is a gaff machine. He’ll make Mitt Romney’s celebrated 2012 foot-in-mouth review look tame. He has the ethnic stigma of the northeast, deadly in a Republican primary, where Romney turned from vacillating moderate to a gun-toting Jesus Freak in two months. Here, wise-crackin’ is good press. In Iowa, Christie’s act might look as if he is a dock worker on amphetamines, or worse, some kind of Sopranos tribute.

And there is also this TEA Party thing, which Christie is likely not going to kowtow to under any circumstances and will have to strain not to turn pikers like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul into chum at the first turn. Will that kind of fight alienate the nuts; a key GOP demographic these days.

And it should be noted, the same exit polls that make him look like Boss Tweed, also favor his inevitable opponent, Hillary Clinton by four points.

No matter; Christie put his hat in the national ring with the subtlety of a bull elephant in heat Tuesday. He looks to be ready to do what he knew he would do by all-but passing up any chance of being sunk in the doomed 2012 Romney run; work with head winds.

So let it be known that on November 5, 2013, the day he was re-elected as governor of NJ in a landslide, Chris Christie is running for president.

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LOU REED – 1942 – 2013‏


James Campion

LOU REED – 1942 – 2013

When you dance hard.slow dancing.
– Lou Reed
“Rock Minuet”

New York beat in him. This is what he captured, after all; his epic poem, his distorted ode, his ebony attire and his affected, queer tough-boy growl.lou reed This was the rhythm of his city, where he was born and where he died. New York City. How he viewed it, behind the tinted shades, like a spy. He gestated in its belly, gorged on its deepest most cherished deviance; its insomnia, its pleasures, its damning. The city slithered to escape him, to seduce him, to keep him and keep us coming back for one more taste. “Hey white boy, what ya doin’ uptown?” All the gutter-queen, drag hipster pale vampire nights and the cruel lipstick-stained cigarette mornings shuffling into the cracked, boarded tenement slag aftershocks. “Waitin’ for the man.”

Lewis Allan Reed was the literate bad ass who never accepted the cerebral niceties of professorial bluster in the books and poems. It was the busted lobe of those twisted freaks that made them. This is how to take the words and splatter the blood and semen and regret and paranoia out of their meanings – to mine Blake and Ginsberg and Conrad and those weird little stories in Nelson Algren’s id and translate them into the subterranean haunting frames of Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling and Little Joe, the unrepentant withered doll parts of Andy Warhol’s Factory.

“And the colored girls go…doo do doo do doo do doo.”

When he was a teenager, his middle class Jewish parents, horrified by his bisexuality, sent him to receive electroconvulsive therapy. It was 1956, six years before Ken Kesey blew the lid off the whole deal in Cuckoo’s Nest and a few months after the world went sideways for kids like Reed, when Elvis shook his ass on television. The fuel of a thousand lights singed into the soulless flim-flam of Eisenhower’s America – fire across the bow. It was indeed the end of two-dimensional black and white.

“Despite the amputation, you can dance to the rock and roll station…and it was allllll riiiight.”

Reed returned to New York after his “reawakening” at Syracuse University, to dream the playwright jester’s dream, return to the din of the big town with an epiphany found in the temple of the Velvet Underground. Sounds of the nadir, street hassles and slick needle-pushers emerging from the psychedelic fog of “Heroin”, a song so completely without peer, without root, without a lifeline and for whom the singer, the young, stoic, chiseled, confused Reed sings in a ghostly moan; “I’m gonna try for the kingdom . if I can”, but even feeling like Jesus’ son descends as if a spiral staircase into “I guess I just don’t know…and I guess I just don’t know.”

Lewis Allan Reed was the literate bad ass who never accepted the cerebral niceties of professorial bluster in the books and poems.

The Velvet Underground came and went long before anyone had any idea of what New York was going to be again, was going to act like in the undulating zeitgeist; the horny, thorny, idiotic soot and grime and bankrupt moral dogma of the much later hip-hop cries for vengeance. It would be that New York which took its wounded debutantes and spit them out like the fair and blonde Edie and the ballers from New England who thought they were going to be “rushin’ in my run” only to end up a damaged but undaunted Sweet Jane; “Everyone who ever had a heart, they wouldn’t turn around and break it…And anyone who ever played a part, wouldn’t turn around and hate it.”

Reed could have walked into the sunset after that. No one would have blamed him; the drugs, the booze, the hotel rooms and opiate cab rides. Soon there would be London with David Bowie and in Berlin with fiends from his childhood, and all that beautifully wonderful noise and feedback and electric guitar slop that underscored those denizens of the streets.

“I never had to bring anything in the way of despair, anguish or deep emotion to Lou Reed,” famed producer, Bob Ezrin told me earlier this year. “It was all over his writing.” Ezrin took Reed’s most vivid passion play and created arguably the most psychologically stirring pieces of rock music ever recorded. Do yourself a favor and find “The Kids” after you finish reading this. Listen to it, really listen to it.

Ironically, it was New York, the title of his last great work – a true late-in-career-comeback-masterpiece – that stamped his legacy. It sounds, 24 years after its release, like a resurrection – even last week when I was listening to it, a few days before I found out he was gone. And I wondered about Pedro and the poor souls on the bus with no faith and the fading image of Bernie Goetz in the shadow of the Statue of Bigotry. I wondered if any of them ever made their way out of his head, his beat.

…his town

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Aquarian Weekly


James Campion

From Music Workshop to New York Stage, A Pop Duo Comes Of Age


Even in a cramped and steamy backstage dressing room, less than two hours before the New York City debut of their full-band show at Webster Hall, Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass still find time to be introspectively gracious and dig deeperBoy1_400x500 into this mysterious but palpable fusion of musicality that allows uniquely divided talents from disparate backgrounds to achieve Boy.

Boy is a vocal-rich, musically versatile songwriting and performing duo that formed in 2005 and released its first collection of songs, Mutual Friends in 2011. Disallowing for taste or category, Boy embodies the strength and depth of the memorable tune, the visceral progression, the tasty bridge and a considerable cross-generational adoration for pop music.

“We don’t sit in a room and jam,” Glass chuckles. The thirty-six year old German cellist/bass player is quite adamant when explaining the Boy process. “I write the songs in total, programming everything but lyrics and melody. Then I send those ideas to Valeska.”

The twenty-seven year old Swiss born vocalist, whose eerie evocation of Suzanne Vega’s reservedly sensual tones, thrives in the duo’s give-and-take. “We are real perfectionists,” Steiner beams. “Our goal is to work for as long as it takes for us to like it. And it takes awhile.”

Mutual Friends is a first record much like a first novel; it goes too far and chooses too many spaces to fill, yet manages quite nicely to make it sound as if the listener has found a comfortable place to land.

“Comforting” is how Glass describes the music, as Steiner is quite positive its themes, from love and loss to the joy of transition are “optimistic”.

“This is the beginning…of anything you want,” Steiner sings in the album’s opening number, and you believe it, just as you believe the alternative in the pensive “Drive Darling” when she admits, “I’m smiling on the surface,…I’m scared as hell below.” There is an enviable sincerity in these disparate emotions in which the music duly supports.

“I was glad we were able to make a record that many people come to us and say that it gives them hope somehow,’ says Steiner. “I had just moved from Zurich to Hamburg, so it was like a fresh start. And it was this very enthusiastic and hopeful feeling of looking to see what was going to come, but there are also melancholy songs of missing what you left behind.”

The delicate but brave balance of Boy is found in these young women and what they have found in each other, a similar comfort to meet the challenge of creating the kind of music which reflects their collective outlook while not trying too hard to please. It is as if the idea of a good, solid, positive song; whether treading folk or rock or soul, were inbred individually and realized jointly.

“I was looking for a band for many years and Valeska was the first one where I thought I really believed in us,” recounts Glass of their meeting in a six-week pop-music symposium at Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg, Germany, her distinct accent forcing the words deliberately, so as to not miss the significance. “Something happened when we played together that had never happened before. I somehow knew that things would work out for us.”
Steiner recalls nearly 50 musicians and vocalists convened in the “workshop”, but it took merely an initial meeting for her and Glass to be sure that theirs would be a fruitful collaboration.

“We got into the rehearsal room the second day and we really liked each other’s qualities and somehow got the feeling that we had similar tastes and that we cared about similar things in music,” says Steiner, through a lilting Swiss accent, a sweet smile creasing her slender features.  “We clicked pretty quickly.”

“There were many, many singers, but she stood out,” Glass says of Steiner. “Her voice is special and very unique and you just recognize it. She’s just…shining.”
Mutual Friends provides insights into the essence of the Steiner/Glass pairing, which becomes transparent upon meeting them; an adoring humility with an undercurrent of worldly ambition. Both women are arrestingly beautiful and soft-spoken, belying a tenacious will to produce the most memorable aural-scapes.

This intriguing duality was fully on display a few hours later as the band (a percussionist, drummer, guitarist, keyboardist and Glass on bass) took the stage on the second floor of Webster Hall before a hearty audience. Dynamics, spatial nuances and visceral lifts power an understated fury, whether a ballad, as in the haunting “July” or a simple pop song, as in the spectacularly infectious, “Little Numbers”.

It is on stage that Steiner shines as a vocalist; culling tension against an impenetrable bedrock of defiance. Her voice demands attention with a feminine mystique as she moves about the spotlight like a sparrow sure of its space but comfortable in timidity. “We really didn’t make any compromises,” she declared back in the dressing room. “We really just wanted to make our record the way we wanted to make it and we feel so lucky that people seem to like it and we’ve gotten so far and traveled so much with these songs.”

The crowd on this night ate it up; singing along and cheering the many moments of demure honesty both women offered up about their utter giddiness at playing their songs as they were intended, with a full band, in a New York City milieu.
“We are extremely happy with the live band we have,” Steiner enthuses. “They are great musicians and great people, and we’re really happy to have this group that grew together from playing so many shows.”boy

Each member of the band, which has previously played with Boy in one capacity or another over the past two and a half years, all contributed to different songs on Mutual Friends, as Steiner and Glass preferred to pick and choose the right musicians for a particular song. However, this line-up was not part of the equation when the girls first hit America in March.

“We knew we wanted to go on tour and play, but we couldn’t afford a whole band to come with us,” says Steiner. “We just knew we would have to find a way for just the two of us to play these songs in a stripped down version. So that was a challenge.”

This was especially true of Glass, who had taken it upon herself to provide nearly the entire musical accompaniment, protecting the integrity of the original arrangements. “I have to say it took me some time to get used to playing acoustic guitar live,” says Glass. “I use it when I write, of course, but it was hard for me to play this instrument and feel comfortable.”

“We had to imitate the whole band and Sonja really had a tough job,” Steiner adds, her partner effusively nodding her head beside her. “She had to jump from the acoustic guitar to the cello and then to bass.”

“For two songs we had a loop on the laptop and I had to start it,” Glass laughs. “I was kind of the band machine.”

But now, on stage, with full accompaniment and an enthusiastic crowd of fans who have embraced Boy as it was meant to look and sound, Steiner and Glass appear in their element. The German girl plucks her bass and smirks at the groove as her Swiss pal leaps joyously, smacking a tambourine into an open hand as she bends her head back to reach another note.

The future is fast becoming the now for Boy; on tour in the States with a new acoustic EP out and looking forward to completing work on a second album. It is hard not to ask if this could ever have been dreamed up or if this is all stranger than fiction.

“I think both are true,” Steiner smiles, with Glass chiming in with a whispered yeah. “On the one hand it was always this dream of being a musician; to be able to tour and be on the road with your band and, honestly, going to the States and being on tour here was one of my biggest dreams; but it always seemed so far away. When we started writing that was never our main thought, it was just really believing in what happened between us when we write and liking what comes out of that in the first place – just doing it for ourselves or for our own pleasure, because it fulfilled us. And it still does, and it’s so nice to see which way the music goes…”

“….and how it develops,” Glass concludes.

The Boy process continues.




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James Campion


What you expect from the newest Steely Dan show, Mood Swings: 8 Miles High To Pancake Day Tour, the most recent incarnation of the enigmatic jazz-pop duo of Donald Fagan and Walter Becker – the resurgence of which began two decades ago – is solid musicianship, kick-ass sound and ear-bending arrangements of exceedingly infectious songs. What you get from its nine-day residency stint at New York’s Beacon Theater is all that and a surprisingly lively presentation of extended jams, Broadway lighting effects, and a joyous sense that living in the groove is a communal experience.

What was to be the penultimate gig in a monster 53-show tour by the 70s’ icon of FM radio staples – the white-blues-smart-short-story blurbs of urban yuppie be-bop – featured an entire reading of the band’s 1977 masterpiece, Aja; a recordsteely dripping with peripatetic nostalgia, testosterone-addled rage and school-boy infatuation wrapped in spatially structured melody machines.

Fagan, sloppily attired in a gray-black ensemble with a long, barely functioning tie and pink sneakers swayed impishly at his keyboard, black shades and a beaming smile evoking the most affected Ray Charles, was in ragged but tonally severe voice. His biting, yearning, often hilariously poignant lyrics sliced through the dozen musicians and voices backing him. His partner of more or less 45 years, Walter Becker, seemingly dressed for a yoga summit – bearded and bald and tastily gliding his digits across the Fender frets – effortlessly summoned echoes of studio licks subtly brewing from him.

The band, referred to affectionately by Fagan as The Bipolar All-Stars – as finer group of impressively educated and militarily rehearsed cats would be hard to fathom, would be worthy of some kind of vaudvillain hipster showcase. Full horn section; baritone (Roger Rosenberg), and alto sax (Walt Weiskopf), searing trumpet (Michael Leonhart), and trombone (Jim Pugh) added the crucial counter textures which powder the sugar on Steely Dan’s croissant. Chest-caving bass (Freddie Washington), delectable keyboards (Jim Beard), and a dual guitar barrage of riffs and runs from Becker and Jon Herington that mesmerize but never distract. Drummer Keith Carlock, who has been with the line-up for a decade, is as versatile as he is entertaining – a true percussionist in every sense of the word – providing backbone to what almost always appears to be an off-kilter free-form virtuoso soiree.

Let’s face it; sounding “like the record” – to which Steely Dan discs always provide hardcore audiophiles ecstasy – is a pre-requisite to this endeavor, and impeccable vocals completed the experience. This was accomplished with precision by The Borderline Brats; a trio of singers, Catherine Russell, La Tanya Hall and Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery. The nuances of their harmonies and hoots-and-woots swirled perfectly within the framework of these fluidly taught rhythms.
After traversing the landscape of Aja; “Black Cow”, “Peg”, “Deacon Blues”, “Josie” et al, the band played for another 90 stirring minutes – deep cuts, big hits, and witty repartee through blues, jazz, rock and the obligatory “Reelin’ in The Years”, which induced the crowd into as much a frenzy as a dedicated phalanx of middle-aged to creeping hippy seniors can get. The highlights included a rousing version of “Hey 19” in which Becker rapped for nearly ten minutes about music, love, life and marijuana, and an unflinchingly dynamic version of the concussive “Bodhisattva”.

There is every indication from this show and its response from the audience that Steely Dan could have set up shop on Broadway for another month.




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James Campion

For Good or Ill, President Displays Lame Duck Balls

If the president’s first post-election press conference is any indication, there’s a new sheriff in town. Those are the sounds a man makes when he no longer has to run for office. It is powerful, even majestic, if not terrifying. Makes the most fearless among us truly understand the lofty position of the end game. It rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? End game. No more matches, debating or begging for money or trolling votes. Nothing left to do but talk tough and crack skulls.
– THE EMPEROR’S NEW SHOW – Reality Check: 12/5/12

Support for, or dissent aimed at, the Affordable Care Act such as it is, or this shaky second-term president, who for reasons known only to him has routinely gone completely AWOL when heavy confrontation is called for, or this now utterly obamadisastrous congress, which has sunk to an unfathomable five-percent approval rating with a six percent margin for error (which means there is a good chance no one breathing approves of it) there is one key element that has become abundantly clear to even the casual observer: Barack Obama is a professional politician that no longer has to run for a fucking thing and therefore has the gravitas to go balls-out on whatever lies before him. And this government shut-down, continuing resolution, debt ceiling debacle is a fantastic example.

While the Republican argument is for the president to negotiate an existing law after its rather lengthy trip through every due process provided by the American system, Joe Cool has simply told everyone to go screw. It is quite intriguing, really.

And the polls back up this guts-and-glory play. There isn’t one not manufactured by Karl Rove or some other fossil of the Right that doesn’t shift the piss-wind into the GOP collective face and Obama is, for the moment, taking the day.

The president’s only wrench-in-the-works is this pussyfooting around with exemptions for this and that – corporations, unions, government employees – which appears to irk those polled, but even that group thinks the Republican-controlled congress has gone off the rails.

With Obama’s legacy on the line, the unimaginable complications and red tape to come on his lofty Obamacare, there is much fight in this dog.

Meanwhile, there is budging. The day of this writing, John Boehner’s wholly useless reign as Speaker has netted him several clandestine meetings (the kind that pulled the last debt ceiling silliness from the maw of disaster to a less onerous level) which have gained some measure of temporary deal in the works. This is done as both he and the president have spent day after day in front of microphones pointing a finger at the other in classic political brinkmanship, if not ham-fisted public relations.

But Boehner has bigger fish to fry than a nearly lame-duck chief executive. His caucus, the majority of which thinks the 30 to 40 colleagues who have spearheaded this clusterfuck are further dismantling a wounded brand, are frightened. No one wants to cast any compromising vote with 2014 looming and the horrible shutter of 2010 and 2012 congressional primary bloodlettings fresh in their heads.

And, not to be dismissed, those aforementioned 30 to 40 did get elected by districts vehemently opposed to any national health care system, with the haughty notion that somehow they could stop it; like Mitt Romney’s continued fantasy during the 2012 presidential campaign that somehow the president of the United States could singularly expunge a law from the books by a sweep of his monarchical hand. Does anyone expect them to go back to their constituents and blather apologies about caving?

Boehner has careers and futures to manage. Obama, on the other hand, has nothing to lose. Nothing.

His party? Shit, the vice president isn’t even getting the nomination. It will be Hillary Clinton, who will emerge as the heavy favorite and likely win the White House based on the same key voter demographics which whisked Obama in less than a year ago, a demographic the Republicans have done much to continue to disintegrate. And, as stated here last week, even without this grandstand, the Senate is almost assuredly staying in Democratic hands in 2014, as will the House remain Republican.

With Obama’s legacy on the line, the unimaginable complications and red tape to come on his lofty Obamacare, there is much fight in this dog.

If anything comes out of this mess, it is this; never fuck with a politician who no longer has to answer to the ballot box.


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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

Terrorist Politics 101 


Get used to this.

Unless there is another Watergate-sized disaster in the White House or the Republican Party fades into oblivion from lack of demographic or pseudo-religious support gun geeks than there will be a GOP-controlled House, most likely a barely-controlled Democratic tedSenate, and definitely a Democrat in the White House for most of our natural lives.

As each generation passes and the diversity of the national electorate expands, the realistic numbers, as they have the past decade-plus, will dramatically skew Democrat, but the entrenched districts across most of the South and Mid-West will also secure an impenetrable Republican legislative coalition.

Thus, the Republicans, slyly gerrymandered and considerably well-versed in local politics, will hang onto a small but crucial part of our tri-balanced system and continue to act as all nearly powerless groups tend to; defiant, petty and destructive. This is what transpired in the ludicrous debt ceiling debacle of 2011 and what is happening right now with the wholly nonsensical shutdown of the federal government.

This action is the very definition of terrorism; to enact your will in glaringly anti-establishment ways when civil ones are not available to you.

Before your head explodes, we can bag the term terrorist for, say, insurrectionist or radical. It’s your choice. Whatever the semantics, this jacking around with the running of government and paying the debts the nation has already rolled up to grandstand  ideology masked in empathy for the common good is a desperate ploy utilized by those rendered mute by the powers that be, which is normally viewed by the minority group as tyrannical.

It’s juicy stuff. I love it for its historical perspective and entertainment value; but, of course, there is no end game to any of it, just as we have learned with fundamentalist Islamic extremism in its violent third-world ways. Pissing on systems in which you are neutered is a classic response; wholly understandable, if not irrational.

Because it is irrational for one party of a two-party republic to ignore the tenets of law it has collectively sworn to legislate. As unpopular and perhaps asinine as the Affordable Care Act may end up being, it is a law; upheld by every available avenue of the United States Constitution.

You see, you draw up a bill, vote on it, and the president of the United States signs it into law. This is the fundamental structure of this American experiment.

Now, if that law is unjust, according to the rules of said Constitution, it has its day in court, such as the atrocity known as the defunct Defense of Marriage Act. And so the ACA had its legal dissection by the third branch of government, the Supreme Court, and, unlike DOMA, was upheld, cementing the very strength and integrity of the democratic system formulated 225 years ago.

The last vestige of eradicating the existence of this flawed and perhaps disastrous law was left to the gaining of access to the final branch of the government; the executive. Less than a year ago, this nation chose quite decisively re-elect the man for which the law is now pejoratively named, Obamacare, Barack Obama, thus electorally putting the final ribbon on the ACA.

Legislation, judicial review and election results solidified an acting law; and yet those powerless to stop it, continue to cause a ruckus, as if the U.S. Constitution was merely a suggestion. Not because they don’t like it or think it bad but because every possible means for them to have a voice has been squashed by decorum.

This action is the very definition of terrorism; to enact your will in glaringly anti-establishment ways when civil ones are not available to you.

Those who spend hours in the great halls of congress, this hollowed body currently approved by an historically abysmal 10 percent, shouting about the primacy and infallibility of said Constitution, are now shatting on it like bratty sore losers.

Those who simultaneously rail against systemic equality, and who cite the will of 57 percent of the populace that despises the law, but ignore 90 percent of the populace that begs for mandatory gun legislation and a realistic immigration bill, shout equality for everyone.

If the government had not been shut down and used as a blackmail scheme, then this would be fine political theater, but pushing this hissy fit into the governing realm for which they were elected it simply insurrection, radicalism and really, terrorism.

At one time or other in my life, I have supported a degree of each, so believe me it is plain as day and it is not going to stop anytime soon, if ever; because to throw systemic bombs into the works, to endlessly filibuster committees and obstruct votes is not the way of democratic law, but the way of the powerless to dismantle it.

And so the national demographics won’t change and the districts in the House races won’t budge.

Get used to this.

The media has, the stock market has, and even the members of the government that closed shop this week have.

This is the norm.

Remember, as Napoleon once mused, “It ain’t rape, if you sit back and enjoy it.”

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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion


Straight as an arrow; stoic with a slightly visible breath – a fierce figure of calm in a gathering storm standing upon a raised patch of dirt 18 feet in diameter. The left arm mobent to the chest, the ball gripped in the mitt, the right hand dangling casually. A look in at 60 feet and six inches – razor sharp and icy like a jungle cat at prey – before a slight shift in weight brings the bare hand to meet the ball. Then in one fluid series of ballet-esque motions – a coiled slant forward, as if a bow fletching to strike, cranks the body fusion into a bullet arc, a millisecond prelude to the knee kick from the left leg and the arm whirling high above the head with the release of the stitched sphere to its destination.

A single pitch. The professionals call it a “Cutter”, a spinning, knifing diving thing that burns inside on lefty batters and disappears to righties. One pitch. Nineteen major league seasons. A record 652 saves (the final outs of a close game) over a record 952 appearances in Major League Baseball contests. An unprecedented stretch of excellence with a single, devastating pitch has ended.

The great Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is retiring as quite simply the undisputed finest closer to ever ply the trade at any level anywhere, and without question the longest running level of near-perfection in the history of sport.

I first heard the name on July, 4 1995 while riding shotgun in a grey Isuzu pick-up truck with fellow Yankees fanatic, Peter Blasevick, a long-time friend and colleague, whose band DogVoices I decided against all reason to follow and turn its exploits and that of the New Jersey rock circuit into a book called Deep Tank Jersey. Rivera was dismantling the Chicago White Sox over eight innings, allowing one run while striking out 11. He would never be as affective a starter again.

The next time his name hit my radar was an 11-inning play-off game in 1995 between the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners, when a skinny reliever my dear friend Tony Misuraca called The Elfin while another, Bo Blaze frantically scribbled onto scraps of paper, “Please, Young Mariano, get this out!”, pitched three scoreless innings – the 13th, 14th and 15th to earn the win in a marathon at Yankee Stadium. The team would eventually lose the series in its final inning with Rivera in the bullpen helpless to stop it. But that would not happen too often over the next five years when the team that had not tasted a World Series in 18 years (an annual event the greatest franchise in professional sports history practically invented) would reach it five times, winning four, including three in a row.

Rivera would be the lynchpin of those title teams that could well be (considering the three-tier postseason set-up) the most dominant the game has ever seen.

By ’96, Rivera was a full-time bullpen pitcher, a set-up man for the then closer and mentor, John Wetteland. First year manager, Joe Torre, who had previously cobbled five winning seasons out of twelve in prior locations, placed the budding Rivera in the seventh and eighth innings and ostensibly turned a nine inning competition into six. It would earn the 26-year old right-hander a top-five finish in the Cy Young voting, almost unheard of at anytime in the game’s history and a telling quote from two-time champion manager of the Minnesota Twins, Tom Kelly, who famously said of Rivera, “He needs to pitch in a higher league, if there is one. Ban him from baseball. He should be illegal.”

Fortunately for the Yankees Rivera was not banned, and went on to shatter regular and post season records for closing out games from 1997 until this season. The most incredible of these statistics is his incomparable play-off performances, which for all intents and purposes Rivera turned into grand opera and classic art all at once. Over 96 appearances in his career (missing only 2008 – the only year the team did not make the post season – and last season due to injury) the man the sport affectionately called Mo would post an historically low .70 ERA with a record 42 saves and eight wins against one loss.

Robin Roberts of ABC News recently figured that less people have walked on the moon (12) than have scored a post season run off Mariano Rivera (11).

When the Yankees won, as they did in ’96, 1998 through 2000 and 2009, he was unhittable, and when he hiccupped in 2001 and 2004 for one inning each, the team went home. Only in the 2003 World Series loss to the Marlins did Rivera not play a prominent role in the team’s fortunes, but that was after his Herculean three inning scoreless performance in the second greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen, the 11-inning epic against the rival Boston Red Sox that ended on one swing of the bat.

This is the literal definition of most valuable player.

During the unfathomable 1998 season in which the Yankees posted a 125-50 record – the best single-season baseball team ever – I accepted a job hosting a sport show at WFAS in White Plains with my good friend and now Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino. The following three years I spent a lot of time in the Yankees clubhouse, and there was never a time when Mariano Rivera wasn’t laughing or counseling or motivating his teammates, a completely opposite figure than the almost robotic assassin that took the mound time and again, cracking bats in half and whiffing confused hitters.

After the ’99 title, where he recorded the last out of the 20th century, a century the Yankees owned, I stood with him at his locker in the din of celebration all around and we spoke of his World Series MVP. Over a full ten minutes never once did he mention himself. In his then broken English, speckled as it was with contemplative uhhs and ahhs, he sounded like a Zen Buddhist, spiritually humble, defiant against the idea of the world being a random swirl of events. He was centered in all his genuine talk of God and family and teammates who allowed him to have the ball in the final minutes of glory.

In the press box that night, as the fly ball that ended the series nestled into the left-fielder’s glove, I jotted down a note in my scorecard to my Unlce Vinnie, who had seen Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio play and who had passed away when I was off on my honeymoon in mid-June.  I recalled one day the previous summer when he shook his head at the mention of Rivera. “That kid,” he whispered, “is an all-timer.”

In October of 2009, I took my wife, now a diehard Yankees fan, more than me, for sure, to Game 2 of the World Series, a game in which, as he had done countless times, Rivera came in to clean up a mess in the eight – two on, no one out in a two-run game – and closed the door.

This past August, I walked hand-in-hand with my five-year old daughter, Scarlet into the new Yankee Stadium; a favor my father granted me over 40 years before in the old one, and on her back was a number 42, Mo’s number, and the name of her favorite cat that we named after the great Rivera.

And so one of the leisure pleasures of my life, like a Joe Namath pass, a Woody Allen film, a Stones song, and a Hunter S. Thompson screed, the great Rivera standing on the mound about to throw, will no longer be.



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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion



It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
– Vladimir Putin, Preisdent of Russia (NY Times 9/1113)valdimir-putin-shirtless

Ahhh…ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…ooohh, hee-hee- ha ha ha ha ha ha ha  ha  ha ha ha ha (choke) ha ha ha ha ha ha ha (snort) ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…uhhhhh…ha ha ha  ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…oooh, holy shit…ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…wait a minute, I… ha ha ha ha ha ha  ha…Whew.

Oh, man that’s precious. Fantastic. Classic shit.

I have to say, despite his complete disregard for human and civil rights, his lifelong dedication to a godless Soviet regime, and his phalanx of shirtless macho propaganda photos displaying him in an Alexander the Great kind of glow, this Vladimir Putin character is hilariously poignant whilst discussing the democratic ideals of other nations.

I stand in awe of his complete command of irony.

I have never written such blasphemy before, but this masterpiece he sent to press this week is more scathingly witty than the best of Lenny Bruce.

That’s right. I evoked Saint Lenny on this one.

Now, most likely, Putin wrote none of his op-ed piece in the NY Times; a quasi-Son of Sam plea for sanity for those not possessing the sensitive yearnings of a maniac. I’ve read Russian translations of his rhetorical skills, and it is dubious this yammering brute could formulate anything resembling a monosyllabic Rambo-esque soliloquy “Unless they’ve been me, unless they’ve been there” type of grunt, much less this masterpiece. But the quintessence of the man was there, inside every word.

For the best example of this kind of manic stream-of-consciousness, one has to randomly stab one’s finger to a passage in any James Joyce or even those wonderfully crafted zig-zags through fog-addled logic Charles Manson saves for his endless parade of parole hearings. You know; “Your discarded children in garbage cans” stuff. Timeless comedy.

In essence, Putin’s brilliant satirizing of his own shortcomings as a serviceable human specimen, never mind witless leader of a flat-lined series of disparate states wallowing in the fading mist of Russia’s sad century-long attempt to try and keep up with the massive money–machine military lunacy of the United States, rings many bells; hypocrisy, disillusionment, condescension, and petty exhibitionist solipsism.

Take it from me, this ain’t easy to do.

For the best example of this kind of manic stream-of-consciousness, one has to randomly stab one’s finger to a passage in any James Joyce or even those wonderfully crafted zig-zags through fog-addled logic Charles Manson saves for his endless parade of parole hearings. You know; “Your discarded children in garbage cans” stuff. Timeless comedy.

This 1,068-word fucker was a whiz-bang. I wish I had written it. Worthy of Mailer; not Norman Mailer, I mean this guy Nick Mailer who cleans my gutters ever spring.

My favorite part was all the peacemaking. I love how Putin tactically weaved his “Look, ma, I didn’t shit my pants for the first time in six months, can I have a loli?” prose into the thing. How he’s stepping in and getting rid of weapons he supplied to another Middle Eastern thug and taking care of the business he should have taken care of two years ago. The whole Syrian mess, for which he uses as a metaphor to eviscerate the U.S. as a power-mad global puppet master, is tantamount to dumping your incorrigible little brat on the neighbors and after he has all but burned down their house, you step in and say, “Sheesh, you people don’t know what you’re doing, I’ll take it from here. And, by the way, you’re welcome!”

It is beautifully done. I hope the envy I feel for this budding word master is seeping through my effusive praise.

I could only add that if Pussy Riot, the all-girl Russian punk band Putin has seen fit to jail for two years for singing lyrics like “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away
Рut Putin away, put Putin away – The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
Leads protesters to prison under escort – The phantom of liberty is in heaven
Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains” could speak freely today from their prison cells, they would applaud the strong anti-imperialist rant their president sent to an American newspaper.

And if all the homosexuals Putin is deporting and jailing and signing laws to strip them of rights could read this moving testament to “all men being created equal in the eyes of God”, I am sure they would raise a defiant fist with him.

All hail, the scribe, Vladimir Putin; never has self-flagellation sounded so goddamn funny.


Now, if he truly thinks he’s a better jack ass than me, let’s see him pull it off weekly.

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