Aquarian Weekly
James Campion


While being a professional colleague of mine for nearly twenty years, during which he has displayed nothing but an enviable commitment to ethics in all forms, Rob Astorino has managed to succeed at the impossible; competing in two vocations replete with soulless bottom-feeding degenerates; journalism and politics, while maintaining an unwavering comportment that is impervious to corruption. Despite this reporter’s repulsive dereliction of scruples and frightening lack of integrity, he has called me friend; as I, him. And as I gracelessly careen towards the half century mark, it is not a term I dare use loosely. Robert is indeed a friend; a true bedrock warrior in the infinite roll call we all must cherish when the karma winds shift in weirdly unpredictable directions.

– Rob Astorino in The Land Of Scum, Reality Check: 10/29/09

My dear friend, Rob Astorino is running for governor of New York State.

No shit.

It’s crazy. He isn’t just a passing professional acquaintance. I’m the godfather to his first born son, Sean. And now, after four years and re-election as Westchester County Executive, he is set to truly become a national political figure.

Not sure how I feel about that.rob_Astorino_75

I have known Rob Astorino since 1991. We were sports reporters in Westchester, New York and thrown together to broadcast local High School sports, mainly men’s football and basketball. We became semi-famous for this. We traveled quite a bit, shared hotel rooms and chatted up all-things. We both hosted sports shows and found ourselves in the employ of snipers, who used our talents for meager pay in trade to get access to Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, etc. Later we would host a pretty peppy sports-talk show on WFAS Radio out of White Plains, where we drove the NY sporting press insane with our flights of fancy in the press box and locker rooms.

These are stories for a book, not a 900-word screed.

Throughout this time, aside from the occasional remark, we did not discuss politics.

Good for him. He steered fairly clear of my acute cocktail of radicalism and spite.

One day, somewhere around 2006, maybe 2007, whilst producing ESPN’S Michael Kay radio show, as we lunched in mid-town Manhattan, he confided in me his wishes to enter politics.

“You’re fucking kidding, I’m sure,” I said, chunks of masticated sandwich tumbling from my gaping maw.

“Nope,” he said, and proceeded to regale me with his wishes to “make a difference” and “protect my family”, the usual nonsense similar lunatics have blurted in a torrent of rationale. But instead of being queered by it, I was truly moved. I figure this poor bastard’s in for it, but for whatever reason, it all made sense. He appeared unerringly sincere. It was one of the few moments in my adult life where I was immediately convinced of someone’s sense of purpose. This happened all the time when I was a kid. Kids believe in stuff. Rob believed.

Despite serious trepidations, I did what I could to assist his campaign for Westchester County Executive, at one point there were serious talks about covering it for a book, but my schedule and his harried existence made it tough. I did manage to crank out a couple of scathing attacks on his opponent, Andrew Spano, a bent curmudgeon of a man, whose main contribution to that 2009 campaign was to spew the bile of the doomed. And, indeed, he was doomed, for on November, 3, at 42 years-old, Astorino was elected.

He served a controversial term taking on the usual union noise, straining to cut budgets and stemming the inevitable tide of rising taxes, all the while making his way within the environs of the schizophrenic Republican Party – its infiltrations, loons, machinations, ups-and-downs – running and winning another term this past November.

But now it’s the big time.

Back around Christmas, as he met with advisors and sent an exploratory crew that deals with the usual pabulum of putting together an endeavor of this size, we spoke in length about his chances, his mental capacity to handle what amounts to two campaigns in as many years (and the mental capacity of his poor family, all of whom wince and writhe, cheer and beam with every step) – one as a favored incumbent, and now once again as the underdog.

“I have this all figured,” he said, as confidently as that first fateful day over regurgitated sandwiches. “Get my head handed to me, and I finish my term as planned, then go back to the private sector, maybe get back into broadcasting, work within the party. I come close, give it a real fight, and maybe build myself as someone who can play on the bigger stage, then weigh my options, or, maybe, just maybe, I will be the next governor of New York.”

It was a big deal to be hearing this, in his kitchen, with our children running around, a few miles from where we broadcasted our first game together decades ago: Rob Astorino, my friend, running for governor of New York.

After four years and re-election as Westchester County Executive, he is set to truly become a national political figure.

I have gotten to know many politicians and musicians, actors, and artists on the grand stage, but there is no one I have known for longer or have been closer to than Rob. And I know, and he knows, where he is headed, and the depths and heights he will travail on both sides of the political aisle. This is a place that I know all too well. Both aisles are rancid.

And so, I’m sure there will be a column or two in there along the way. But without apologizing, it will not be objective – as if anything in reporting or politics ever really is.

Hell, if nothing else, it would be advantageous to my outlaw existence – most of it taking place in NYC – to have a pardon in my back pocket.

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A Songwriter’s Cyber Showcase

Aquarian Weekly

BUZZ Feature

by James Campion


Welcome One & All To Dan Bern’s Cyber Showcase

If you put me in a box, make sure it’s a big box. – Dan Bern “Jerusalem”

“If I was to stage a theme show of my songs, say, around girl’s names; what would you put in there?” Dan Bern asked over Indian buffet near lower Lexington Avenue last September. He had been staying in New York for longer than usual and we made haphazard plans to get together and chat on-and-off the record, take in a film, walk the streets, smoke cigars, and, as Dan likes to say, throw a few back. I did not hesitate to make suggestions from his vast catalogue of material: Of course, “Marylyn” from the first record, Fleeting Days’ “Jane”, “Monica” (about Seles, not Lewinsky), “Sister” – not really a girls’ name, but a beautiful one about his only sibling from 1998’s Fifty Eggs, the stirring, “Estelle”, and suddenly we were off and running.

“Exactly,” he smiled.db

Later, as a collection of unreleased tunes for a planned album filled out the street sounds penetrating his modest suite at a downtown hotel that was framed by crudely beautiful renderings on the walls painted by his four year-old daughter, Lulu, Bern began to build on the idea. “I could see maybe renting out space off-off-Broadway and putting on shows based on song themes; a different one every night.”

There was no arguing that he, more than anyone this side of Randy Newman, could pull it off. For over 20 years now, Dan Bern has been writing songs (along with books, poems, and kid’s stories) with a reckless abandon – some of them even composed on demand for fans to help defray the costs to get this bulging phalanx of tunes out to the public and still others for the films Walk Hard, Get Him To The Greek and friend, Jonathan Demme’s Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains. Pressed to count them all, Bern will first insist he cannot, but will eventually acquiesce with a sighing, “Okay, over a thousand.”

Yup, Bern writes songs like most of us read the paper or peruse the Internet. It is almost a daily routine. He breathes, plays tennis, enjoys a bike ride, loves his family, and writes songs. Since 1997, this prolificacy has resulted in 14 studio albums, two live, five EP’s, a collaborative song-cycle adapted from the letters, essays and poems of the Western folk legend Everett Ruessand, and a collection of children’s songs; the second volume is already done and is brilliant and another country-flavored record is poised.

Suddenly, here was Bern imagining, even scheming a place for this disparate group of melodic brothers and sisters, heroes and despots, celebrations and protestations to go – one place, as if, well, as if a Theme Park.

Bern brought the “theme” idea up again a few weeks before leaving for the West Coast in early December, citing several reoccurring slices-of-life to his canon; pop culture, politics, history, literature, family, tennis, baseball, travel, etc., along with the obvious subjects available to any songwriter; love, loss, protest, and inner revelation.

“My first thought was, ‘That fucking Campion! That’s not in the rules!’ Then I thought,’ Eh, I’ll do it.’”

Once back in L.A., he was inspired by an online concert his friend and sometime collaborator, Mike Viola had hosted on the web site,, wherein artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls, Plain White T’s, Jason Mraz, Jimmy Buffet, Sara Barreilles Better Than Ezra, and Ingrid Michaelson, among many others create backstage, in-house podcasts to interact directly with fans. It seemed Stage-It was the perfect vehicle for the “theme” idea, and it did not take Bern long to begin fashioning a one-man show around not only his moving, hilarious and poignantly striking music, but sprinkled with his razor-sharp wit, and officially call it “Theme Park”.

“All of my song subjects are so far afield, and with my songbooks here, I can pretty much pull from everything I’ve ever written and come up with set-lists,” Bern said from his L.A. abode over the phone in mid-February after he had a couple of Theme Park shows under his belt – the first theme, Football, broadcast the week before the Super Bowl included such luminary musical numbers as “Namath, Mantle & Me” (written when he shared a similar knee injury to the ailing stars), “Who Gets Serena?” (an imagined double-date between the Manning brothers and the Williams sisters) and “O.J. Simpson” (you know) and the second, Love, for Valentine’s Day featuring his unique sentimentalities displayed in “Love Makes All the Other Worlds Go Round”, “My Love is Not For Sale” and “I Need You” among others.

“I’m doin’ stuff I wrote this fall mixed with stuff I wrote 20 years ago mixed with stuff people know from the records, and its focused and it feels like a new thing.” Bern says, as he excitedly previewed a third one coming up for President’s Day.

So without much prompting, I had to “tune in” or more to the point, login to see it.

I became a member of Stage-It the day of the show, which was simple using Paypal, and since Bern mentioned more than twice I could “set the price, and in my case, it’s a dime”, I did, but went for broke at an outlandish $2.50. He informed me of the opportunity to “tip” the performer, as if he were playing in a downtown subway.  “I started offering these little perks for top tipper,” said Bern. “For the Super Bowl one I signed a football jersey, and for the Valentine’s one I gave away Henry Miller’s Wisdom of the Heart, and for the Presidents Day show, I painted three presidents, (Lincoln, Nixon, and LBJ) and in honor of the Winter Olympics, I’ll give them to the top three.”

db-2At 9:00 PM Eastern, there was Bern, captured by his MAC camera, nattily attired in a suit and tie (very presidential) and welcoming his audience with a very theme-y Theme Park theme song. Then he immediately launched into a toe-tapping ditty called “Weird Little Thing”, which playfully recites the bizarre coincidences between Lincoln and Kennedy’s time in office (not the least of which both were initially elected 100 years apart, to which Bern lyrically warns whoever is elected in 2060 better keep on his toes).

The humble USB mic did the trick, as the intimacy and immediacy of the performance was striking. I have seen Dan and hundreds of musicians ply their trade in every possible venue, from cramped clubs to upstairs lofts, garages to Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall (including Bern), but this is far different;  personal and interactive. As Bern played, viewers started messaging, the comments floating up on a stream to his right. Interspersing pithy comments, one spot-on imprecision of LBJ, and displaying his original paintings auctioned off to the “top tipper”, Bern was in his element and the fans loved it.

It was during a brief introduction to the next song as having been written as something of a dare that I realized my own request would make the show. As is my tradition, when invited to such ad hoc events, and knowing Bern’s ambitions run deep, I emailed him earlier that day to pen a song about William Henry Harrison, who infamously died 32 days into office from pneumonia thanks to his refusing to wear a coat on a bitterly cold and rainy Inauguration Day. “That kind of story is ripe for a folk song,” I wrote, unsure if even he could pull it off.

Sure enough, he did.

“Hey, a challenge is a challenge,” Bern said when I called to thank him the next morning. “My first thought was, ‘That fucking Campion! That’s not in the rules!’ Then I thought,’ Eh, I’ll do it.’”

Bern rounded out the 50 minute set (it was only scheduled for a half hour) with nine more songs, his haunting introspection of Lee Harvey Oswald in “Marine and Me”, a couple of verses of Tom Waits, “On The Nickel” (“…even Thomas Jefferson is on the nickel over there”), and his 2004 call for candidacy in “President” were the highlights.

Then, just as quickly as he popped up, he was gone.

“It’s weird for me, because when I do this show online, although I’m home and not in a club, I still feel that post-show glaze,” says Bern. “It could really grow into a bi-weekly thing for me, but it’s really the gravy, because if I finish touring and then come home and go a week or two without a show, it’s like arrrrrrrr. And to have something like this to focus me – getting the set together for that show’s theme and then doing the thing, and it’s only seven o’clock and your done – its kinda great.”

The experience, which began percolating in New York a few months back as a kind of local cabaret act, became a reality on the other side of the continent and has suddenly gone global. Some members of the audience were from Greece and all points abroad.

“The theme idea along with wanting to stay focused for 50 minutes of playing has allowed me to get 11 to 15 songs into each show, and by getting my paintings in there and being able to play more often to a larger audience beyond touring, it’s just a cool way to do all the things I like to do, and never leave my house.”

But one wonders when Bern does go back on the road, which he will this spring with dates already set to begin here on the East Coast in March and crisscross back to Los Angeles, before heading to Holland in April and returning for another week of gigs around New York in May, will Theme Park live on?

“Oh, I’m gonna keep doin’ ‘em,” Bern insists. “I can do a Theme Show anywhere, the hotel room or I’ll come out to your place and we’ll do it.”

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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion


To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact.
– Charles Darwin

The “what should be” never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no “what should be”, there is only “what is”
– Lenny Bruce

A feral cat is slowly making its way across the frozen tundra of what was once my backyard; its painful strides sucked into a mass of ice and snow becomes a strange ballet. The light gray coat of its hair contrasts drastically against the infinite expanse of white. I cannot turn away from its struggle. It is mesmerizing.

The weather has been brutal here for weeks, maybe months; causing us to become shut-ins at the Clemens Estate. We chose not to brave the elements ala the cat; whose survival I wager is at best a coin flip. Although it has maintained its stride across two hurricanes over the past two years, weird rain squalls and high-shifts of wind, spastic temperature spikes and radical dips. It’s been something of a bizarre ride; certainly odd enough to admit, without any scientific proof, that some weird shit is going down.

Science or fact has a way of nudging the belief factor into oblivion, which believers must avert.

Yet there is a preponderance of facts available on climate change or global warming or inconvenient truths, and while I do not profess to agree or disagree with it, as if one can agree or disagree with two-plus-to-two-equals-four or that gravity exists or that Peyton Manning is most likely to suck in a post season football game, there is something afoot. It is interesting that despite overwhelming scientific data there continues to be a debate on whether humans have or will continue to fuck up the environment.noah

Of course we do.

This is the point of human existence. Like every living organism, we are acutely aware of our environment and possess an insatiable urge to manipulate it for our needs. But unlike other creatures, we see no need to preserve it. We possess a denial chip in our psyches that obliterates what should be an intrinsic sense that our resources are finite and the abuse of them bear consequences. It is not unlike Hitler in the bunker ordering armies that didn’t exist to fend off the Russians.

Because even if we gave a flying fart that we’re destroying the environment, are we really equipped to do anything about it? Or, more to the point; is the will there? Perhaps we do nothing because it’s scary and it seems icky to admit that by simply “being” we are skunking our own playground.

The cat is well on its way to the top of what looks to be a rather large mound of snow – a precarious march; only the frigid temperatures keep the poor thing from sinking into a quagmire of slush.

Speaking of which, I saw a report the other day on an upcoming film on the Biblical story of Noah. According to the commentators, this opus appeared “too dark”, although neither of them had seen it. This got me wondering what part of the Noah story is not dark. Is there something I’m missing – omniscient godhead gets pissed at its creations, hatches a plan to drown them all, and to hedge the bet, gives a head’s up to one of them and tells him just to be safe; “Hey, why not keep two of every species, so they can repopulate the place after this catastrophic hissy fit?”

It’s bedtime material, really.

The same people presupposing this nightmare as some kind of heartwarming episode in human history would likely decry it as a blasphemous harangue on the Almighty if it happened to come out of J.R. Tolkien’s head.

This is the same principle applied to Creationism, which using the same denial concept as ignoring our place in fucking up the planet, has a fairly enormous following among humans – defiantly ignoring decades of applied science and factoids presented to the contrary. This is an interesting balancing act; the concept of believing in something, as opposed to knowing it.

For instance, take racism. Racism is nothing more than a religion or a belief system, a strong conviction in the face of reality. Maybe people a century ago could kind of get away with this nonsense, like many centuries ago people believing the sun revolved around the earth – an earth that is only 6,000 years old due to dogmatic teaching – but now?

We are forced to confront racism simply because we cater to the rationale of the simpleton, like those who still maintain that the worth of a woman in the workplace or her standing in society is a teeny bit less than that of the man or that somehow homosexuals should not be afforded the same rights as those of us who choose to wed the opposite sex. It’s, you know, selective belief with no tangible evidence to back it but conviction.

But I get it. I do. Science or fact has a way of nudging the belief factor into oblivion, which believers must avert. This was the tough crowd Galileo and Darwin had to play.

The other day I sustained a serious head injury and found myself glued to the Bill O’Reilly show. In it, he unfurled a heavily-worded argument about something with not a shred of statistical or empirical evidence to back it up. His reasoning was, I think; “This is what I believe, and the opposite is silly and wrong, period.” Then my head cleared and I turned this idiot off.

You do realize that Pro-Life advocates point to the advancements in technology and science (ultra-sound) to dispel previous theories on human life not existing in some form far earlier than anyone had “believed” even 20 years ago. However, these same types flip the fact-switch to oppose the biological data accrued over the same period, which unequivocally proves that homosexuality is a trait of certain humans, like eye color, and not some kind of choice, as in wearing white after Labor Day.

Ah, that cat is well on its way now; under a tree, breathing hard and staying the course. Wherever it’s going, it looks like it will get there…this time. But what about tomorrow?

Which brings this thing full circle – back to this horror show winter and its massive storms and Western droughts and people stuck in cars for days on an Atlanta byway eating their young.

I am fairly sure we’ve irreparably fucked this planet pretty good and we ain’t gonna stop.

We’re humans. We fuck things up.

This would explain the whole Noah thing.

You’re welcome.

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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

Guest Columnist: Tiddal McStevens


Editor’s Note: After a spate of fruitless haggling, the following was sent to The Reality Check News & Information Desk on the early morning hours of the ninth day of February, 2014. An angry directive from Mr. Campion to “Send to press anything that lunatic McStevens can muster” was soon followed by what appeared to be an onerous series of indecipherable texts purportedly from a golf course out west. Two separate editors then tried to coax Mr. McStevens to “Clean up the text by deadline or a carefully placed call to the Scottsdale Sheriff’s Department would produce the Draconian hellscape that befalls those with brownish skin in Arizona.”

Posting: 2/8/2014

It was two degrees when I booked this trip. A high of twelve was predicted for the following week. That’s Fahrenheit; in case these words are reaching our neighbors to the north. An escape from the cold and a vague promise of badly needed sex excreted me from relatively comfortable inertia.

The promise fizzled, predictably, so you, gentle reader, are left with this: A poorly planned, poorly executed filing for the Reality Check Sports Desk, and a chance for El Capitan to get a week off from abusing the public with his acid pen, and back to quaffing absinthe and screaming at geese.

The entire ordeal was an insult to the word planning. Gary Busey has a better outline for a toddler’s birthday party. Consequently, a few texts smeared on smart phones, and I had suddenly become a cub reporter.

With the remainder of my clothes covered in road salt and desperation, I showed up at the Waste Management Phoenix Open smartly dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and tassel loafers; the décor of choice for the sporting press.stadler40

For those who have better-focused lives, this PGA event in Scottsdale, AZ is the sole affair of the season wherein a modicum of emotion is allowed to be expressed by fans. Normally, these shindigs have all the pallor of a post-medication afternoon bridge match.

I had settled in the vaunted 16th hole, the MMA Octagon of golf, where pudgy retirees holding up “Quiet Please” paddles near the tee box are mostly ignored. Here, attendees are expected to do The Wave. Cheap trinkets are hefted into the stands. My feet were twice flattened by a wheelchair-bound fan clamoring for a set of fake mustaches. Bad shots are loudly booed, even if you are the leader, such as our protagonist Bubba Watson. Hell, a bad Wave is loudly booed. Suddenly, amidst the mayhem, one brave player went all Richard Sherman and exhorted the crowd to turn up the volume. Then he backed it up with what is known in the parlance of the damned as a “birdie”!


A white guy shot under par!

With noise!

It’s a bit difficult to attach grittiness to golf professionals. Gleaming Mercedes Benz motorcars are on display at the tournament grounds. Placards next to them proudly announce their usage as courtesy cars for these jocular Brahmins. That’s right: Whilst your salt-covered shitbox is making sounds like it wants to eat its own motor, dozens of bored athletes are oozing about the beauty of the southwest in unctuous Germanic splendor.

Waste Management is a fitting sponsor for this shindig when you consider Arizona has something on their books called the Super Extreme DUI. Pulling over drunks is good sport for the troopers out here; something to consider, as the desert sun pierces your pink, boozy flesh and the tournament grinds to a close.

It was at this point I discovered that not only was I assigned to this “piece”, but I had acquired something called an “editor”. Barely 18 goddamn minutes into “the assignment”, I received three unhinged rantings about “a deadline”, along with veiled threats of physical harm. Suspicions grew that the “editor” was unhealthily enjoying having the tables turned.

There is not much else to discuss in depth on the tournament or regarding the purported leader of it, other than his name is Bubba. But that’s not to say the man isn’t talented. Just a few short years ago, he knocked the sport’s proverbial socks off by winning golf’s Super Bowl, The Masters. And he did so with a shot a major league pitcher might not have been able to throw, much less being hit with a little metal stick.

Such talent was not on display today. Bubba was succeeding about as well me: Great hopes for expectation, failure in execution.
In a reminder of the cruelty of this ruthless game, Bubba threw his 16th tee shot into a sand bunker, made a middling escape of said trap, and did not complete his putt for par. This set up a three-way tie; normally exciting stuff. But by this time I was soused and badly in need of a cheeseburger to stave off a Turbo Mega Ultra charge from the jack-booted thugs waiting for me on the 101 loop.

Normally, these shindigs have all the pallor of a post-medication afternoon bridge match.

The leader rode out of the 16th on a thunderous wave of jeers, as the stands emptied and I wandered among the dumpsters and Benzes wondering what kind of wine I should get after the TSA confiscated my bottle opener, and should I follow the crowd to the next tee box?

So the match was tied, and I was Reality Check’s Man on the Beat. But while pondering my options, Bubba dropped the tournament about ten-feet away, having made a poor approach shot to the 18th hole. Clumsy efforts to record the goings on were shouted down by purple-shirted security staff. The end of the tournament didn’t slow them much, as they kept after me long after the last putt dropped.

Truth is Bubba followed up his gaff with an indifferent putt, which handed the tournament to the Christie-esque Kevin Stadler, resplendent in slimming hot orange and the school boy glee of his first professional win. The portly Stadler is the son of former Masters winner, Craig Stradler, who himself has the well-earned nickname of The Walrus. The third man left behind in this melee? Someone named DeLaet, also itching for his first win. Of course, due to the din of the clamoring fans and ditching security, I was almost too drunk to remember any of it, and was left with nary the energy for a cheap shot against Canadians.

Oh wait: Mayor of Toronto!

McStevens for the win!

So how then did Scottsdale become the Wrestlemania of golf? My guess is the locals tired of making turquoise tchotchkes and burning VWs in the desert whilst calling them “Festivals”. All I know is that I’m in a dusty parking lot staring at the Sonoran moonscape trying to remember what I rented.

I think it was gray.

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Aquarian Weekly


James Campion              



In the early 90s’, Babe Ruth biographer Kal Wagenheim told me the only way to describe the Bambino’s effect on the game of baseball and America at large during his first few tumultuously historic years in New York pinstripes would be to say it was like he had been dropped from another planet. “There had been nothing like him before or since,” he said. “No one could remember what the game or American sports were like before Babe Ruth arrived on the scene. He changed everything.

beatles-on-ed-sullivan-showFor my money, this is as close as anyone has come to framing The Beatles arrival on American soil half a century ago this week.

Like Ruth, there was no lead-up to The Beatles in New York City on the second week of February, 1964.

How could there be?

Much of The Beatles image; the four cheerfully pasty, monochromatically dressed mop-topped British lads, was a hodgepodge of German art-house nihilism drenched in a transsexual sheen. At first glance, it was if the four figures were equal parts of a whole – what Mick Jagger once described as “the four-headed monster that went everywhere together.” The Beatles were a moving pop sculpture, a walking billboard of patent waves and cheeky smiles; on stage the rhythmic bouncing and bobbing of heads and the choreographed bows became inseparable from the music.

Beatles music was also odd. A jangling echo-saturated guitar assault launched upon primitive foot-stomping drums adorned with high-pitched semi-accented voices, as if mimicking normal cadence between all the “oohs”.

This was more than Sinatra, more than even Elvis. The Beatles were a thing. This weird inexplicable force of nature; seemingly fabricated, built in a lab somewhere to perfectly capture the intangible drift of hope.

In England, where Beatlemania had exploded through the previous summer, the copycats, both amateur and professional, already abounded, but in the States there was barely minor curiosity. Beyond a three-minute report from an American news organization that autumn smarmily mentioning some outlandish behavior by European youth over a caterwauling guitar band, The Beatles were a footnote by late January of ’64, when the band’s fifth single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” bounded onto the Billboard charts at a modest #45.

Everyone in the growing organization that was The Beatles, including their wide-eyed genius of a manager, Brian Epstein, sent from central casting as king-maker deluxe, had any clue as to what awaited them at New York’s Kennedy Airport (ironically named after the fallen president scarcely two months in the grave, grieved by a nation starving for a little silly foreign distraction).

New York, much like the four Beatles home, Liverpool, was a port town, an artery of cross-culture and, perhaps more than any city in the world, always a hive of “happening”. It did not take long for “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to torch the charts, and by February 7, the day The Beatles walked out on the tarmac to hundreds of frenzied kids and a phalanx of grizzled Gotham reporters, it was #1 with the proverbial bullet. John Lennon (23), Paul McCartney (22), George Harrison (20), and Ringo Starr (24) were babes in the woods in age and experience – they had never been outside of Europe before – but their time on the rough road from late 1960 through the red-light district of Hamburg playing endless sets of American R & B music prepared them well for the onslaught.

And here’s the kicker; The Beatles were good, real good.

This was a well-oiled machine; no Memphis “aw, shucks” trucker or pristinely coached turtle-necked pop idol. From the harried ad hoc press conference at the airport, where they deflected questions with one-liners and breezy repartee, The Beatles drew the adoration, worship and envy of a considerable portion of the American public. It was an organic template for the modern roll-out of pop stars for ensuing generations, which culminated on the most watched live program in the nation.

Forty-eight hours on American soil, after all the hoopla and mobs in front of the Plaza Hotel and a swirl of photo shoots and half-assed radio “interviews”, arguably the most influential and time-altering few minutes in the history of human communication occurred on the Ed Sullivan Show. In less time than it takes to boil water, The Beatles performance of “All My Loving” (viewed by a record for the time of 73 million) ambushed an entire generation, set alight the British Invasion, and legitimized the heretofore idiotic notion that rock and roll would be anything other than a teen fad.

Before February of 1964, rock and roll, the last truly original American youth movement (its children being Rock, New Wave, Punk, Rap, Hip-Hop, etc) was on life support. Its founders and heroes, Elvis Presley (the army), Chuck Berry (jail), Buddy Holly, (dead) and Little Richard (religion) had gone away. Pop music was mired in bland, white, corporate creations, interrupted briefly by the brilliance of Phil Spector and Barry Gordy’s machinations, but mostly a plastic wasteland.

Before February of 1964 the art of pop songwriting was practiced in smoke-filled cubicles deeply tucked away in monolithic brick and mortar castles like the Brill Building, controlling the force and message of teen angst, lust, and yearning to challenge the status quo and find a voice.

Before February of 1964 this free-form expansion of cultural mayhem known as the Sixties seemed resigned to fight the battles of Civil Rights, sexual revolt, and youthful upheaval to the angry folk brilliance of Bob Dylan.

And here’s the kicker; The Beatles were good, real good. And soon this thing would take us all on a wild ride over six years, 12 studio albums, 13 EP’s and 22 singles. Each one was, without exception, really, really good. Crazy good. Scary good. Along the way this thing changed everything (Babe Ruth style), in fashion, experimentation (both sonically and chemically), business, mass communication, and culture.

It remains an element all its own, this Beatles, this thing, that for all intents and purposes began for America here in New York City in early February, 1964.

Fifty years ago, The Beatles came, saw, and conquered like no one or nothing since. To think of what mattered to us in 1964 being as relevant and nostalgic and passionate as this continuing movement is today is laughable.

John Lennon famously said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”

He and his band made sure we didn’t forget that notion ever again.

*Dedicated to my friend, Lisa Geller, born the day this all went down.

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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

State of the Union Turns into Beginning of the End For President & Congress

The horror. The horror.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

That was a weird State of the Union address.

I’ve been watching these things since I was a kid, a curious little brat wondering what’s with all this presidency and congress, followed by wasted time covering and/or commenting on them since the late 80s’, and I have to be honest, that was some bizarre shit.

Here we have a president basically if not identically rolling out last year’s agenda (and the one before that and probably, don’t quite recall, but likely the one before that) with the same distant aplomb as is his wont, delivered to a vacuous body of haircuts, power ties, jewelry, expensive shoes and scrap-paper smiles that will most assuredly do with it what it has done for five years…nothing.

Oh, there were the obligatory claps and smiles, harrumphs and frowns, demands and asides, and, as usual, all of it seeming like pantomime; this strange scene from a Fellini film where no one is whom they claim to be because we’re not sure, nor or they, that they may be mere apparitions or perhaps something the auteur has put there to fuck with our heads. But this time the whole affair appeared more funereal, an ocular dirge worthy of requiem, accompanied by images of reptiles slithering through rotted human skulls.


The orator, Barack Obama, is two steps from lame-duck with a massive law strung around his neck, and the parts of it that’s working for a minuscule portion of the electorate has does nothing to mitigate its disaster. There is not a thing the president can say now or tomorrow, next week or next year that is going to amount to a wit, because even if he were as tyrannical as his ham-fisted detractors childishly wail, he is faced with the most inert congress in the history of this republic. Despite dominating the political landscape by gaining two of the most impressive electoral victories for a Democratic candidate in two generations, Joe Cool appears as if he is a custodian, or worse, a bystander to history.

Obama sounds done because he is done. Change time, if there ever was one, is now over. That is unless the Democrats can slyly do what the Republicans pulled off for the remaining seven years of G.W. Bush’s train-wreck, painting him as a “defender of our sovereignty” after he idly stood watch over the horrors of 9/11. Shit, if anyone can sweep that nightmare under the rug, then it should be no problem making people forget the monstrosity of the AFA.

But this charade has a shelf life and it has come due. And the funny thing is Obama has known this since his second inauguration, when he began sounding the siren for “going it alone”. Of course this was no clairvoyant act of political genius. You’d have to be completely brain dead to expect this congress to allow anymore big stuff after the tactics of Nancy Pelosi’s 111th addition and the advent of this pestering joke of a TEA Party that works for a government it derides at every turn and then sits on its hands to prove ideological points in what amounts to kindergarten hissy fits.

What Obama does have going for him is that he is still president for the next three years and what he counted on during this Mad Hatter-esque showcase is congress being the most reviled body this nation has ever known; its approval ratings dipping weekly into single digits, most of it pockmarked with clownish machinations staged for TV or committees filmed on TV or cable news sideshows on TV. Its members have now found it so tiresome to bludgeon this domestically ineffectual president they have taken to beating relentlessly on each other.

No less than four different Republicans gave rebuttals to this death rattle; the obligatory doe-eyed woman rolled out to quell more craziness from queer dinosaurs like Mike Huckabee, another woman, this time an obligatory Hispanic, the TEA Party guy cranking up his obligatory rant on “tyranny”, and Rand Paul, who, well…is the obligatory Paul who blazes his own path.

One gets the feeling that with the senate up for grabs this November, the Republicans for the third such election cycle will fuck it up with the same tired quasi-religious, misogynistic bigotry that screws the party every time. Already you have jackasses threatening to throw cub reporters off the balcony of the capital rotunda. You can’t make this crap up.

And so the president will extend his damaged usefulness beyond this body of the inept with the executive order, a fancy bit of marksmanship used by every president except William Henry Harrison, and mainly because he croaked shortly after being sworn in. Despite being accused of abusing this nugget by sub-mentals, Obama, as this space has argued and continues to argue, is so dispassionate about executive comings and goings that he has signed less executive orders in his first five years in office than any president since Grover Cleveland, and remember Cleveland had to span his out over half a decade since he served non-consecutive terms.

At 167 such orders, his is a whopping thirty behind G.W. Bush at 197 in his first five years and Clinton at 238, which means, and I think this doom-struck address pretty much presumed, he has some ground to make up.

Joe Cool appears as if he is a custodian, or worse, a bystander to history.

But beyond the normal hoary political miasma, this annual lament was made complete by two of the most heinous uses of unfortunates to plug talking points this reporter has seen in some time, which effectively plunged the wretched thing to such depths it is hard to not offend by merely broaching them. I am speaking of the president’s parading of a mutilated veteran of 10 duties to the desert abattoir called Afghanistan for a painfully long standing ovation that should have stood as a warning against the brutal vagaries of our 21st century lust for perpetual war instead of a living metaphor for working our way through hard times and the down-syndrome child so callously offered up as some kind of right-wing talisman during the official Republican rebuttal.

The horror. The horror.

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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion


Major League Baseball continues its over a century of government-sanctioned fraud, racketeering, suspension of civil rights, and illegal business practices this week by suspending the right to work of one of its players for one year on nothing more than the purchased testimony of a convicted criminal, circumstantial copied evidence of emails and purported receipts handed over by said criminal for the purchase of illegal (by league standards, not the nation’s) performance enhancing substances. If this tried-and-true lynch-worthy witch hunt mastery of correlation equals causation ever happened anywhere else in this country we would be sickened, frightened, and outraged. But in the somehow eerie bubble of sport, it is seen as a triumphant moral imperative.

And this is why Major League Baseball must be shut down and re-examined as a legitimate business under the laws of the United States as such and not as it was deemed in a queer 1922 Supreme Court ruling as merely a Game. Therefore, in one of the most egregious loopholes in the sordid history of American law, MLB has enjoyed exemption from the anti-trust laws that govern the anti-capitalist practices of monopoly. Among other organized-crime like shenanigans, MLB merrily used this nonsense to keep the game all-white until Jackie Robinson’s heroic barrier-breaking season of 1947, which, for some reason baseball is given a social medal for doing so – you know, for allowing American citizens, who had the talent and comportment to earn a living alongside other American citizens.landis


MLB also used this boondoggle to treat its employees and its product (let’s face it, no one ever goes to a ballpark to watch owners, nor do they rush to box seats and wave down vendors for hot dogs unless players are there playing the damn game) as if indentured servitude until 1972, when a brave soul named Curt Flood said no to a trade. Before Flood, and later the court cases that won players the right to choose the city and team they wished to play for based on salary and personal comfort, players either ate shit or went back to plowing fields or pumping gas.

Oh, and when salaries and player movement became too much for owners, they colluded to deny players a fair marketplace in the 1980s’ and were summarily found guilty of this horrendous practice, but were left to police themselves, having that comfy exemption from U.S. law umbrella. It was the same umbrella that kept the U.S. Congress at bay during the last 25 years (the steroid era), over-seen with dollar-sign gaiety by MLB’s commissioner, Allan Huber “Bud” Selig, who duly ignored all logical sense of law and business decorum in 1994 by orchestrating the lock-out of players and the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in a century to force a league salary cap on the Players Association.

 This is all expected of baseball, which has treated players since day-one as plow mules.

Teams abandoning cities, the civic raping of local jurisdiction to prize cash for massive, unneeded ballparks, outlandish license fees for logos, asinine lapdog television scheduling of games at all-hours of the night and for a ridiculous length of time, and willy-nilly “for the good of the game” rulings against players, affecting careers and legacies is business as usual for The Game, which is an over $9 billion venture.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without drugs; as the famous home run chase of 1998 attested, bringing back a fractured fan base and eroding inertest of the game behind the might of the NFL and Michael Jordan’s NBA and capturing the imagination of media and fans everywhere. Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were both jacked to the tits on steroids whilst obliterating fifty-year records as the money rolled in. And no one seemed to care, least of all Selig, who not-so quietly celebrated with his bosses, the owners, that their shenanigans of 1994, while it did not crush the union and put a hard cap to save themselves from their salacious selves, it did weaken its resolve and finally led to the later “come-to-Jesus” moment to expunge the evils of PED’s from the Game.

It was a systematic stripping away of player’s rights, to which they sadly agreed, with the random testing for anything under the sun, later becoming an abject mockery of the rights of one Alex Rodriguez, who was thrown out of baseball based not on the agreed and already insane baseball drug policy of a failed test, or even hard, direct evidence of use, but a connect-the-dots, leaking hearsay to the press, fixed arbitration personal assault.

But, as stated, this is all expected of baseball, which has treated players since day-one as plow mules. What is most alarming is the paucity of defense or investigative queries from the sporting press. All but three voices out of hundreds, by my count, has even bothered to deconstruct the systemic problems with MLB’s draconian procedures; a New York City radio host, Mike Francesca, a national baseball journalist for MLB Network and Fox Sports, Ken Rosenthal, and Deadspin’s brilliant Tim Marchman, who penned a remarkably scathing screed, “Major League Baseball’s War On Drugs Is An Immoral Shitshow” (must read) eviscerating the demented Selig, who hopes to now become the Clean Commissioner before retiring.

Okay, so sportswriters are the lowest form of journalism and this is the toy department of news, and Howard Cosell’s predicted “jockocracy of sport’s coverage” has come home to roost, but nearly everyone, and I mean everyone, has just dog-piled on Rodriguez as if it is some kind of overdue flogging. It reeks of the press’s weirdly quiet role in McCarthyism and those first months of the Iraq War, with all the flag-pin wearing, giddy imbedded reporter goofiness.

Maybe the worst, beside the NY Daily News, which for months acted as MLB’s print bitch, splashing the most heinous lies as fact and depicting Rodriquez as the bane of humanity, would be whatever is left of 60 Minutes. This once proud news program, which already paraded a complete fraud as a key witness to the “Crimes of Benghazi”, gave airtime to MLB’s drug dealer witness – a drug dealer who was paid by MLB for information citing Rodriguez, which was the very “crime” the late George Steinbrenner was suspended by The Game.

Hell, even George Zimmerman, a man who shot a kid to death for getting his ass kicked in broad daylight found a defense in the press.

Not sure what will come of the lawsuits Rodriguez was forced to file in an actual court, where this monkey circus would have been thrown to the curb, but if it’s the right judge, and the rock that is MLB is allowed to be lifted, oh the slugs we will find.

Here’s hoping…

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Aquarian Weekly

James Campion

Chris Christie: Welcome to Thunderdome

Well, it was a good eight weeks for the governor of New Jersey. Two months ago he was the Republican lion, staring into national TV cameras and commanding the rest of the world, especially Washington DC, to take a good, hard look at “How things are done here in New Jersey”, so we could all learn something. Yes, he was riding high. A remarkable 65-percent pounding of a Democrat in the proverbial Blue State, looking like a prime candidate for president of the United States and a true challenge to the type of demographics that will likely fell the GOP on the national level for generations.

Next thing you know he’s in a the docket of the state capital giving nearly a two-hour mea culpa speech replete with words like “sad” and “embarrassed” and “sorry”, trying to explain how he’s not a bully, something he has staked his reputation on. Around here, this type of strong-arming comportment is known as “tough”. However, for a man who routinely calls people he finds objectionable “idiots”, the details are always in the semantics and how people outside of this historically corrupt state would see our “business as usual” as something less appealing.christie_65

Of course, none of this is any good for Chris Christie if he has designs on being president of the United States, or even to continue governing N.J if this thing finds its way into Drumthwacket, the bizarrely appropriate name of the governor’s mansion in Trenton. I only know this because while schooling down there in the early 80s’, our collegiate custom was to heave ice balls over the fence at Thomas Kean’s basset hound.

At least we thought it was a dog.

Be that as it may, even if Christie knew nothing of the “bullying” or “revenge” tactics his closest aides perpetuated on Fort Lee due allegedly to its mayor, a Democrat, not endorsing his Caesar-like campaign that was well in the bag by the September date this four-day traffic jam choked the gateway to the one of the most highly traversed bridges on this continent, it reeks of chaos.

Chaos may be gangbusters for stoned college kids pelting a defenseless canine on federal property, but it’s bad for politicos with agendas. The perception for Christie to be unflappable, undaunted, even irascible had to be strengths going in, as most of the Right in this country and a large defection of Independents have decided that whatever is currently going on in the White House is flimsy, uninterested and indecisive. Backtracking on this kind of nonsense does nothing for this “image” of the recalcitrant do-gooder. It is bad branding, and if this had happened this early to a leftist, African-American nobody Senator from Illinois in the first few months that people started to take notice of him, Hillary Clinton would have already been president.

Speaking of Joe Cool, maybe Christie’s cries of having heard about this scandal on the internet the day he headed for his lengthy “hand-in-the-cookie jar” yammering qualifies him for the presidency. Barack Obama’s modus operandi lately has been Ronald Reagan’s fancy “no recollection of events” defense of a myriad of weird to criminal actions by members of his government, from whatever happened in Benghazi to the IRS screwing with conservative groups to the drunken power of the NSA well into the roll out of this Affordable Care Act boondoggle.

Maybe Christie has hit upon something here. The fact that he may have known about this act of political vengeance, so prevalent in the history of governorships across this fruited plain, is for the investigations and courts to decide, but at least we know this; if he were this unaware that his top aides were perpetrating a heinous level of malfeasance than he’s the idiot. And then the next logical question would have to be, what’s worse; insidiousness or ignorance? Reagan and Obama embraced ignorance and it paid off handsomely for Reagan and so far Obama’s “What the…?” response to his brand of chaos has kept the big dogs at bay. Let’s face it, I’ve heard the arguments proposed by the independent investigative councils looking into most of these screw-ups, and they may be sillier than the president being out-to-lunch since the spring of 2011.

Chaos may be gangbusters for stoned college kids pelting a defenseless canine on federal property, but it’s bad for politicos with agendas.

Let’s face it, overreaching the opposition to how a chief executive reacts to a potential scandal tends to engender blow-back sympathy for those who don’t see the president or this governor as a tyrant but merely an insufficient leader, like the last guy, whose presidency came in with tragedy and left with the implosion of the Western world’s economy.

But anyway you’d like to slice it; political or perception, this ain’t good for the new kid in town; especially this early in the game, when the national mood is ornery to outright fierce. Until he officially announced his intentions to run for the nation’s highest office, nothing close to this mess could befall Christie. But here we are, a mere eight weeks into the nation peeking into the Garden State, and things have gone sideways.

If nothing else, it goes to show you how far it is between this bitter winter of 2014 and whatever emerges in the summer of 2015 as a viable challenge to the status quo, which may now not include one Christ Christie.

Hey, he’s the idiot who ordered us to take a good, hard look.

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Keith Richards At 70

Aquarian Weekly

James Campion


Although it was a shock when it actually happened, nobody was really that surprised. Everybody knows people that you just have a feeling about them that they’re not going to be seventy years-old…ever. Not everybody makes it.
– Keith Richards on Brian Jones death in 1969

I recently saw that news clip again of an emaciated, mumbling Keith Richards – dark, dilated eyes sunken deeper by ebony make-up below a wild mane of black, tussled hair, a dangling dagger earring and that signature rotted black hole in his teeth from thousands of cigarettes – waxing poetic about his recently deceased former band member, Brian Jones, who, at 27, had drowned “by misadventure” in his pool in Sussex, England a few weeks prior. Jones, whom Richards had introduced to LSD two years before his rapid downward spiral of Dionysian drug abuse, was the first victim of trying to keep up with Keith, which this week reaches an inconceivable 70 years. keith_3

That’s right, kids; by the time this hits the streets, December 18, 2013, Keith Richards will turn 70.

Keith Richards.

Seventy years-old.

If there was ever a time to slide the minted acronym WTF into this space, this would be it.

Hell…for Keith’s 70th, I’ll just write it out: WHAT THE FUCK?

I rewound the clip; watched Keith say it again; “Not everybody makes it”. And, of course, they don’t. But for him, the man that has turned “not make it” into an art form for half a century, it is the bedrock of irony that he has indeed “made it”.

This shudder of irony struck me when Michael Jackson died. And I thought, while the prepubescent Jackson was twirling around in front of his teenage brothers on the Flip Wilson Show, Keith was comatose on smack and whiskey in a Villa on the French Riviera causally firing pistols at local drug merchants and ramming a rented skiff into a gangster’s yacht and spitting at him.

I had a similar experience when vacationing in the Mohave Desert at Joshua Tree State Park in1999. I ran into a local who told me a story about the young, frail singer/songwriter, Gram Parsons, whose 26 year-old remains were doused with five gallons of gasoline and burned there by “friends” after overdosing on morphine a few feet away in a rented cabin. Parsons hung around with Keith for little more than three years in the early Seventies and introduced him to country music. Richards reciprocated by turning him onto heroin. Staring out into the long stretch of rock and sand, I could hear the echoes of Richards, who sang a beautiful duet with Willie Nelson of George Jones’ “Say It’s Not You” only a week earlier.

It was always the running joke, you know. A long running joke – over 40 years at least, when people became aware of this death wish river boat gambler with a guitar slung over his shoulder, a weird amalgam of Hank Williams’ doom injected with a Jesse James outlaw fury topped off with the insatiable appetite of the Marquis de Sade, if the Marquis de Sade happened to also be a lion tamer that defused bombs on the weekends. “What is keeping Keith Richards upright?”

It is hard to explain to those who are unfamiliar with the life and exploits of Keith Richards to marvel as I do this week that the man is still breathing. It is an inspiration for those of us who work diligently on challenging our constitution. He is our god. He is our champion.

Thirty-two years ago, when in college, there was a horrific snow storm in New Jersey. I was to unfurl a detailed tribute to Richards’ birthday on my humble radio show at Mercer County Community College. But in the spirit of Richards, I ignored the elements and literally plowed ahead with my shit brown ’77 Plymouth Volare, sans snow tires or front wheel drive, but well-equipped with a badly wired cassette player blasting Exile on Main St. I cruised the uneventful 40 or so miles to the campus before an obviously catatonic woman decided to make a desperate left turn into my lane against a red light and I careened into her. I recall the impact, her alarmed face and soon her bleeding temple, as I crawled from the mangled driver’s side door to scream obscenities at her.

Instead of the aborted musical tribute that day, I settled for a metaphoric one; contemplating the strange karma of it all, as I embarrassingly waited in a garage called the Dragon’s Den for my mother to rescue me – just another victim of trying to keep up with Keith.

It is hard to explain to those who are unfamiliar with the life and exploits of Keith Richards to marvel as I do this week that the man is still breathing. It is an inspiration for those of us who work diligently on challenging our constitution. He is our god. He is our champion.

Forget the brilliance of the art; forget the Stones and all those ass-kicking riffs, forget “Satisfaction”, “Paint It Black”, ”Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Gimmie Shelter”, “Monkey Man”, “Brown Sugar”, “Bitch”, “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin?’” “Rocks Off”, “Happy”, “Start Me Up” and the countless, and I do me nearly countless, rock and roll defining sonic muggings. What I am talking about here is the sheer brilliance of surviving for decades, almost by the minute teetering on the precipice of total annihilation.

Also, forget the stupefying fact that maybe, all told, Keith Richards has spent a few days in jail, and not consecutively, just a scattered few hours here and there, whether being set-up by authorities or just busted flat out with tons of hard drugs and weapons all over the globe, and in places where either people didn’t give a shit that he was a Rolling Stone or because he was a Rolling Stone.

“I’ve never had a problem with drugs,” Keith has famously said, “I have a problem with cops.”

But that apparently isn’t even true.

And while Keith has left a long line of victims to his “keep up with Keith” axiom, some famous, some not-so, he has managed to do something even more enviable; despite whatever your selective morals might allow, and that is he has apologized for none of it. There were blood transfusions and drying out clinics to get him back on stage, but never any rehab or finding Jesus or sanctimonious after-the-fact anti-mayhem lectures from Keith. Shit, he only jettisoned the toxins he deemed “over”, as in he had bested them and could no longer see the need to belabor the point. This he astutely cites in his 2010 biography, Life, in which he tutors us all in the laughable art of moderation – for normal humans that means whatever it is most of us are doing, not that crazy, crazy shit he’s perpetuated since 1962.

Hell, Mick Jagger turned 70 in August, and except for a private toast around here, this was no surprise. There is a good chance with all the personal trainers and hyper vitamins and continued screwing of twenty-somethings, Mick will live to 100. But Keith fucking Richards?

And so I shall leave you with the wisdom of the man that I have told people for years and years that they absolutely must televise his autopsy and then find a way to regenerate his DNA into some super-human machine, if it is possible to dissect the part of the brain that worked so diligently to destroy it. When asked by a French journalist in 1977 what he thought about leading the international underground Death Pool, Keith dragged on a cigarette, guzzled a nip of Jack Daniels from the bottle and then let the smoke waft from his crooked smile. “Oh, yeah?” he croaked. “I’ll let you know.”

Keith Richards at 70.

That is a Christmas miracle.

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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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