JOE COOL DOMINATING‏

Aquarian Weekly
9/16/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

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

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

Until now.obama-sunglasses

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

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

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

Holy shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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COUNTING CROWS: NEXT STOP, AMERICA

8/27/15

Aquarian Weekly

Buzz Feature

 

COUNTING CROWS: NEXT STOP, AMERICA

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Duritz_2015

 

Do you recall what inspired you to write songs?

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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WHITE GUY WRITING ABOUT #BLACKLIVESMATTER‏

Aquarian Weekly
9/9/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

WHITE GUY WRITING ABOUT #BLACKLIVESMATTER

I’m Caucasian.

To double-down, I’m male.

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

I have a family. I own property.

I am untouchable.

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

I ride high.

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

Hooray for me, I’m a white guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know, like black lives.

Or #blacklivesmatter.

White guy…out.

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A NEW TWIST ON WEEKLY SHOOTING

Aquarian Weekly
9/2/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, Mista Henry, you get both.

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

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

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MEDIA, MONEY & DONALD TRUMP‏

Aquarian Weekly
8/26/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MEDIA, MONEY & DONALD TRUMP

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

Winning!
– Charlie Sheen

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

trump-prez-fingers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PLANNED PARENTHOOD & MADE-UP SHIT

Aquarian Weekly
8/12/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

PLANNED PARENTHOOD & MADE-UP SHIT

I want to make clear from the outset that I honestly could not care less if Planned Parenthood is defunded or shut down or whatever this wacky congress would like to do. Have at it. I also think that whoever was caught on camera being blithe about sensitive issues should be terminated and there should be some oversight to how a government-run, taxpayer funded institution is run. What needs to be pointed out is this gnawing penchant for political activists – both on the Left and the Right (this time it is the Right) to go off half-cocked and just make shit up to support its agenda. The anti-gun lobby has done it repeatedly after every shooting that occurs in this country (and Lord knows it is daily and insane and speaks more about us than the weapons used, but that is for another column) or the recently hyped Black Lives Matter movement that moves from shedding light on a serious issue of racist practices by an inordinately large number of police killing unarmed black men to an all-out assault on police in general.

planned-parenthood

If you’ve read just one paragraph of this space since 1997, you would know I have no problem with people getting riled up about a cause. And I think if you are even remotely familiar with my work you also know it is not acceptable to create your own facts in the fervent pursuit of your passion. This is the most dangerous area of our discourse, always has been. It takes us from “I disagree with his policies” to “he’s Hitler”, which is more irrational, sub-mental hyperbole than making shit up, but the journey is the same. This problem is further exacerbated when purported news outlets like the pathetically inauthentic FOX NEWS/MSNBC cabal take a story that really doesn’t exist and make it one. It’s one thing for citizens, activists, protesters, lobbyists, or paid political pundits (including the radio host goofballs) to spin their own “truths”, but when supposed journalists not only work fast and loose with facts but blurt out-and-out lies as news, things take on a kind of Alice in Wonderland aura.

Okay, so the biggest problem pro-life crowd has with Planned Parenthood is its safe and convenient (and legal) taxpayer-funded locations to provide abortions for women who decide to go that route (pro-choice). In fact, PP is the number-one enemy of the pro-lifers to the point where, for instance, petitions for mayors, congressmen and governors to close these (perfectly legal) locations are a key to elections. In the past decade many Republican officials have been skirting national law and passing laws to curtail the effectiveness of PP on the state level on the accepted assumption that PP is an abortion factory, when in fact the percentage of abortions to the other specifically women’s health provisions account for about three percent or 328,000 of the group’s nearly 10.6 million services provided last year. And although I support the right for those who oppose abortion to try the political route (as opposed to killing doctors) to advance their agendas, I also do not support a systemic flouting of law for “moral” reasons. Once again, though, this is a subject for another column – one I have written at least a dozen or more times.

The meager (when compared to the ridiculous amount of money thrown at useless murdering like the U.S. military) $528 million is about forty percent of its annual budget, less than pennies to individual taxpayers. Yet, the federal defunding (states can and do provide a sizable sum) of the other ninety-seven percent of PP’s services will adversely affect its usefulness. So while overreacting to make an ideological point, it ends up doing greater damage to nearly 2.7 million women that need PP for non-abortion related care. In an approaching election year, this kind of reactionary nonsense seduces political suicide for Republicans, who already have problems looking like they are perpetually waging social war on women.

And so once videos of PP officials casually describing in detail the “selling” of aborted fetus parts donated legally by the mothers, the pouncing began. The “outrage” singles out the profiting of this ghoulish practice and the horrors of not only the inhumane practices, but the entire idea of PP being some kind of underground human trafficking scheme.

The problem with this is none of it is true. Not a word. PP has for years provided a service to use aborted fetal tissue with written consent of the parents to scientific research for a myriad of diseases and never profits from it. The money causally discussed in the videos (which is a matter of decorum not criminality) subsidizes the preservation and transportation of said tissue, and in most cases these funds are reimbursed. While some may find this appalling, it is no different than you donating your organs to science or to save lives after you’re gone. The spectacularly irresponsible narrative that PP is coldly cashing in on this is a fantasy concocted by overzealous activists that count on you being ignorant to the facts at hand.

…while overreacting to make an ideological point, it ends up doing greater damage to nearly 2.7 million women that need PP for non-abortion related care.

The bigger problem with wildly disseminating misinformation and the orchestrated fabrication of all this leads to government officials, presidential candidates, and members of congress hinting at “investigations”, which like most investigations will end up costing taxpayers more money than the actual funding of an institution and will need nowhere, because there is no crime or story here. The story should be that people who oppose abortion will use any measure, however fanciful and inaccurate, to advance their agenda. And perhaps the most glaring problem will come if congress decides to shut the federal government down over this straw man, (and the sad fact is almost all of these politicians know this is trumped up bullshit, but pursue it to gather favor and potential votes) which will cost us fifty times what we’re discussing here, if we’re so worried about money.

Believe what you will about pro-life or pro-choice, but here are the facts; a woman’s right to choose is protected by law, Planned Parenthood is a legally run women’s health institution that provides useful services to millions of patients annually, and while people with agendas may live by their own versions of truth, none of it alters the first two. And while anti-abortion activists do not hold a patent on making shit up, they are in this case very much making shit up.

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UBER VERSUS NYC

Aquarian Weekly
7/29/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

UBER VERSUS NYC

This was bound to happen here. It has happened elsewhere. The grassroots ingenuity of transport services, more specifically Uber and to a lesser extent Lyft, offer a convenient alternative to mass transit and traditional cab services. In the case of Uber, which thanks to my friend Dan Bern I personally used to great effect in my spring visit to Nashville, Tennessee – a town spread out into disparate neighborhoods yet bereft of available conveyance for those not wanting to rent a car – it adds a fairly unregulated number of extra vehicles to the area while threatening the livelihoods of the existing official vehicular fleet. In other words, Uber is to a region-city-town-county what Napster was to the music business. There may be compromise and reshuffling, but there will be no going back.

lyft_cab

In Nashville, for instance, it took months of wrangling with the local cab services to settle on an agreement to infuse the Uber fleet into the city’s environment, mostly because many of the cabbies (minuscule in comparison to a metropolis silly with them like NYC) saw an opportunity for themselves to break out and become Uber drivers.

Uber drivers must pass a rigorous review of driving records and other key personal histories, but is according to the drivers I spoke to more lucrative than the traditional hack route. It is a well-oiled concept that invites single moms, college students, struggling lower-economic, two-job types, and others to take on a livery business to help make ends meet. Some drivers I met in Nashville raved about its flexibility and its boost to their incomes (average Uber income per hour is $12, while it is $30 in NYC). Some loved it as a distraction – one woman concerned my brothers-in-law and myself by boldly stating she had been driving people around town for some thirty hours without sleep and wondered (if she hadn’t passed out by then) if we needed a ride to the airport the next day. Needless to say we passed on her, but used Uber nonetheless.

Uber is cheaper than cab and car services simply because there is no expected tipping. You sign up through an app on your phone, connect it to your credit card or Paypal and hit it. Within minutes, depending on where you’re an independent driver arrives promptly. In Nashville we rarely waited more than four to five minutes for a car, most times it was two to three minutes.

But Nashville is a burb compared to places like Chicago, L.A., Houston, and especially the largest city on the planet, New York. In fact, my only Uber experience in NYC was a bad one. In early June my wife and I found ourselves in our usual position of fairly inebriated on McDougal Street in the Village and it was late and we needed to get back to our hotel in Tribeca. Normally I’d hail a cab and end of story, but I decided to try out Uber in the big town. I hit the app and a car was promised in three minutes. The car purportedly showed up on Bleecker around the corner in the requisite time. Not sure why it wasn’t in front of us. The driver called me, but the street was buzzing with people and traffic and it was hard to hear him. I explained that we were around the corner, but his response was unintelligible. Just then a free cab happened to be passing right by us, so I flagged it, told the Uber guy never mind, and went about our business. The next day I received a ten-dollar cancellation fee from Uber. I wanted to fight it, but screw it.

I ended up using cabs the rest of my brief stay that weekend, and part of me felt it right, since cabbies have always held a special place in my heart. I’ve had some amazing adventures in cabs all over this world. Drivers always take my advice and always put the pedal to the medal – I rarely trust any cabbie that does not blatantly break the law, especially in NYC. It is a must. And, on a personal note, my grandfather was a proud member of the hack brigade and I believe in supporting these guys/gals whenever possible.

This takes us to the issue at hand. City of New York Mayor Bill De Blasio is now faced with the same dilemma as every New York mayor before him, how to integrate progress into the city construct seamlessly without destroying the echo-structure of the town. He must simultaneously serve all New Yorkers; consumers and workers, while managing the progress of capitalism. New York’s history is filled with these moments, and for the most part New York was the experiment for the rest of the country, the most significant of these were canals, roadways, social programs, fiscal parameters, subways, building, or general infrastructure, and a host of inventions thrown into an urban environment left to its own devices.

De Blasio claims that Uber and Lyft present a possible ecological and traffic-congestion problem to the city. His latter claim is not unfounded. Uber adds hundreds of cars a day to the already uber-(pun intended)-congested streets, and having driven for over four decades around all five boroughs (I parceled medical records around NYC during the late 80s and early 90s to supplement my meager freelance earnings), I can tell you it ain’t beanbag. I have seen things on the byways of NYC that are hard to explain in print. Suffice to say – though since the city’s rebirth in the mid-90s things have been less hair-raising – it is not an easy town to traverse. This is the concern of city officials, as much as the added smelly and dangerous exhaust the additional vehicles provide. But I shan’t go down a road that claims that a few less cars will save New York from its noxious fumes. That is part of the charm, come on.

De Blasio has begun his push-back by imposing limits to the amount of cars Uber can have “on the job” at any one time. I don’t think this unreasonable, but as a business model, no one wants to have “limits” imposed on your expansion, and Uber is expanding big time. The company estimates adding 25,000 customers every week.

Ultimately Uber and Lyft will win out. This is not an if but when and how.

Uber is making its case that by rightfully pointing out that De Blasio has another reason for his push-back, NYC cabs are in jeopardy of going the way of the horse-drawn carriage. Also, more ubiquitous and affordable modes of transportation via the car lowers the mass-transit numbers, which every mayor wants to keep up, freeing the streets of congestion. Uber has countered with a multi-million dollar ad campaign online and on TV suggesting that lower-income, minority travelers now have an option, especially in the outer-boroughs, where cabs loathe to tread; specifically because they are not guaranteed a return fare.

But the sinister underbelly of this, which puts De Blasio in a tight bind to his liberal constituency, is that cabbies for decades have refused to pick up black and Hispanic fares for a variety of reasons that do not jibe with the civil rights of these individuals. Uber has no such agenda or history. De Blasio and the cab lobby cannot hide from this argument. It is real. I have seen it myself and spoken to those who have been denied rides.

Uber also has a hidden, less than moral-outrage argument for its own push-back. If Uber becomes part of the regulation of NYC-Transit, does it lose its “affordable” outside the system appeal?

Ultimately Uber and Lyft will win out. This is not an if but when and how. Maybe a compromise is coming, but if De Blasio or city officials think by ignoring a popular service with progressive tendencies a winning quotient in NYC, they will also go the way of the horse and buggy.

As usual, the rest of the nation watches the outcome.

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THE IRAN DEAL AND THE SECRET WAR ON ISIS‏

Aquarian Weekly
7/22/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE IRAN DEAL AND THE SECRET WAR ON ISIS

Let me be the first journalist or pundit or columnist or politician or radio host or prime minister to admit I have not read the entire Iran Deal. I am sure a 150-page stream of international-law gobbledygook is a fine summer jaunt, but I’ll stick to Simon Critchley’s The Book of Dead Philosophers, which I am currently enjoying and this book on Bob Dylan’s recording sessions from 1960-1994. Good stuff. I am never going to read the Iran Deal, but like all the other people who haven’t done so and probably never will, yet felt compelled to comment on it over the past few days, I will nevertheless write about it. But at least you know that I know I have not read it and have little idea of what’s in it, unlike everyone running for president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and everyone on cable news and on the radio and in nearly every newspaper op ed page in the nation.

waronisis

However, unlike those who merely agree with this thing because they support the president or disagree because they do not, I have only one agenda, which has been consistent here from the moment our purportedly antiwar president took the oath in January of 2009, stay the fuck out of Middle East conflicts. And so an Iran Deal, while being ridiculously calamitous in believing will accelerate the process for an Iranian nuclear program or spectacularly naive to think it will mark a new era in Iranian/American relations, is better than what has transpired since the CIA-orchestrated coup d’état of Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, for the despotic Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, better known to his bosses in the U.S. State Department as the mighty Shah.

I am not going to waste much time going over the complete disaster that has been the U.S. foreign policy in regards to Iran for over six decades and eleven presidents. We all know the deal; U.S. backed bloody dictatorship followed by bloody theocratic revolution, giving asylum to bloody dictator, hostage crisis, sanctions, working out alliance with and arming bloody Iraqi dictator, Iraq invades Iran, more sanctions, secretly trading arms with Iranians to back illegal Central American war in Nicaragua, you guessed it…sanctions, war kicking out aforementioned U.S.-backed Iraqi dictator in neighboring Kuwait, “axis of evil”, second war deposing Iraqi dictator, Iranians begin nuclear program for energy, which no one on the planet believes, G.W. Bush nixes initial Iran Deal to not appear weak in “war on terror”, suspected nuclear plan quadruples, diminutive lunatic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies Holocaust, the existence of Iranian homosexuals and promises to wipe Israel off the map, U.N. (everybody together now!) sanctions, citizens discover twitter and fake an Arab Spring, Ahmadinejad goes bye-bye, Iran Deal.

Okay, I lied – minor time-waster; but you get the point.

There are two options left for the U.S., the U.N, and the rest of the oil-addicted world – deal or war. Period. I choose deal.

Of course hardliners in the U.S. and Iran will bitch about this thing. This is the aim of “the deal”. No one is happy. Would it be better if there were stronger terms on weapons-testing and did testing end up in a war in Iraq in 2003? Yup. And would it be better for Iran if the sanctions would be lifted sooner without all this “trust but verify” verbiage? Yup. But, again, this is the nature of “the deal”. People get something and give something up they would not want to give up. I find it hard to believe people over six years-old would find this concept alien. How does anyone get through forty seconds of adult life, never mind international relations, without compromise?

Now, although I think Netanyahu a buffoon, he is in a tough position – one he created by being the hard-line candidate and prime minster, but nevertheless it is a tough one. He has been saying for ten years that Iran is weeks away from making a bomb. If I said for instance that I am sure Martians are coming next month for ten years I would be put away. Prime ministers and presidents say stuff like this and get re-elected. It’s just the name of the game. I do not blame him and I realize that if this thing goes sideways Israel will have to be aggressive, but I also know that all this bluster from Netanyahu is backed by billions of American dollars (our taxpaying dollars) and billions in U.S. weapons, and out of mere diplomacy, we would have to back such aggression.

This is why “the deal” makes sense. It finally puts us in the game. Instead of lip service and name calling and grandstanding to get votes or seem morally superior, we now in a sense partner with Iran to make sure they act responsibly in the international construct or finally pay for their transgressions. It is an oil-rich, advancing, and geographically large nation. It is about time.

And if this pisses off the Saudis who are currently fighting Iran in Yemen, all the better.

I want to take a moment to point out that this haughty notion of making deals with countries that ignore human rights and sponsor terrorism and/or foreign aggression being a no-no is crazier than the Martian analogy. Please see Saudi Arabia and China for prime examples of why this never seems to matter.

However, there is another key reason, and maybe the key reason, for “the deal” at this time; the growing issue with ISIS.

Aside from the Egyptians and a rag-tag army of Kurds, there is no one who has been more of an ally against the Sunni-configured ISIS than the Shiite theocracy of Iran. Just like our tentative and eventually disastrous alliance with the Soviet Union during WWII, the Iranian influence, intelligence and underground weapons’ network in the region is second to none. We need Iran to defeat ISIS, plain and simple.

This is a classic Barack Obama move. Joe Cool has been pussyfooting around with drones and “relief aid” and Special Forces for too long. He has to stick to his “no boots on the ground” rhetoric and continue to appear “weak” to hawks while also getting into the deep weeds with regards to Iraq. U.S. fingerprints will be all over the Iranian military thrust, eventually strengthened by lifted sanctions, in Iraq now. The Iran Deal comes with a secret détente no one to my knowledge had sussed out; these two nations have a common interest and a common enemy; thus speeding up the negotiations now more than ever.

And if this pisses off the Saudis who are currently fighting Iran in Yemen, all the better. This is should be their war, yet they insist on asking us to fight it. They had their chance. Fuck them.

So Obama gets his secret war against ISIS, which I have also vehemently opposed, seeing this is a cultural civil war that has nothing to do with us. This thing reeks of Ronald Reagan’s expedient support of Iraq in 1982, which did not end well for any of us.

But it isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.

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EQUALITY…OF COURSE

Aquarian Weekly
7/8/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

EQUALITY…OF COURSE

Let it be so marked that on June 26, 2015, 239 years after declaring the right to be free and sovereign to pursue life’s ambitions under the law, and not some theocratic monarchy, that we have once again embraced our truest nature as a nation; that we must never deny the rights we enjoy to our fellow citizens. For that is the day the U.S. Supreme Court, echoing its own prior ruling on this measure and every lower court that has been forced to observe it, that all the citizens of these United States will be granted the opportunities of all, regardless of sexual orientation, as did their fore-runners in race, religion, and gender. Homosexuals now join every one of us not born male, white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, who were told we do not belong in the pantheon of Thomas Jefferson’s haughty dreams of all being equal, from his God to the compulsory halls of law, but eventually triumphed as you do.

gay_marriage

I write these words on the eve of commemorating our nation’s day of birth, July 4, 1776, a full dozen years before its official commencement, the ratifying of a national Constitution. It sacred words of law since amended to include so many more than it defended that late June day of 1788, not unlike the one that duly reflected its power and purpose 227 years later this past week almost to the day. When tested, it has endured. And its crowning achievement exists in the millions it has freed from the tyranny of discrimination through hatred, tradition, religion, and the will of the majority, which ultimately has nothing to do with whether you are entitled to the rights of someone who is not like you, the right to breathe free. That, Jefferson said, is settled by merely being human.

And so America, its concept, its majesty, its stubbornness, its clamor and furor and foundation, gets it right…again.

Eventually.

Because all we have to do as Americans is look to the history of our vaunted Declaration of Independence and the bloody insurrection that lasted nearly nine long years and its ensuing half-decade of debate and rancor that helped forge a Constitution that would be insufficient to raise its ambitions to Jefferson’s promise. It is why it took 73 years to bring forth the idea that some men being more equal than others (apologies to Orwell) was something America could not abide. Of course it took five more years of the most devastating war the nation has endured and 600,000 dead before America became an actuality. The last days of slavery and the eradication of the aborted Confederate States put the legal end to the discussion on who was denied the right to exist.

But of course this took another century before everyone was on board, commencing with the signing of the Civil Rights Act, which continued what the 41st Congress did five years after the Civil War by allowing African-Americans the right to cast a vote, the most binding of our democratic rights. During that time it took America 143 years to finally recognize the full rights of more than half its citizenry with the Constitution’s 19th Amendment, providing our women the right to a vote, nearly a century and a half after Jefferson’s notion about universal equality given not by the state but by simply being.

And now our homosexual brothers and sisters join our proud ranks, cementing a right that should never be provided by a state, but only protected by the state, these United States, a republic, not a theocracy, a rule of law, not the majority of discrimination. But know this; what happened on June 26, 2015 is not merely the end of something, but just the beginning of a whole other thing.

If what you have read above is not enough of a warning, you should be aware that there will be battles ahead. Those woefully unaware of what it is to be an American already pontificate and conspire on how to subjugate this right to marry as any law-abiding, tax-paying citizen may (check that, heterosexuals in prison can marry). It is happening now as I write this and will continue for many, many years, long after you are gone from the script and will be fought by your children and your children’s children. But at least they are now assured by law that they are not “less than” but “equal to”, and that is the whole and binding and spiritual point of June 26, 2015, which is a direct and proud descendent of July 4, 1776. It is the reason there is an America. In some twisted wrench of logic, it even makes all the other crap worth it.

But if I may throw in a humble bit of personal joy; I have made it mostly my ambition here in this space for over 12 years to make known the atrocity of our denying our citizens their inalienable rights. For some, I know, it seemed like every argument forged here would find its way back to this subject. But through it all, I held the strong and unwavering belief in this abomination being unconstitutional, and for that my ecstatic relief of June 26, 2015 knows no bounds. Trust me; my first gin on July 4 will have special meaning. And for that I thank one of my heroes, Kurt Vonnegut, whose prose one day, not sure when or what passage, some 15 years ago, woke me up to the sad fact that I had not spoken up, that I had not used this minor but sometimes effective pulpit to shout from the rafters the core elements of this crucial fight.

what happened on June 26, 2015 is not merely the end of something, but just the beginning of a whole other thing.

And I thank all who appreciated the effort and came around to my words and all of the gay news outlets and magazines who reprinted my rants on this latest battle in our tumultuous history. I even thank those whose opposition, however misguided, but sometimes salient (and you know how you are) arguments seemed to put at least some measure of intellect into what was ordinarily a pathetically stupid and sadly derivative counterpoint to this journey.

Freedom. Rights.

We get there eventually. It is frustrating and perplexing, but when it comes, it is damn glorious.

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RECALLING THE ETERNAL WAVE – A Brief Conversation with the Legendary Brian Wilson

Aquarian Weekly

7/1/15
BUZZ Feature

James Campion

 

RECALLING THE ETERNAL WAVE
A Brief Conversation with the Legendary Brian Wilson

 

You know the old showbiz axiom about luminaries needing no introduction? Okay, so here’s one of those.

There is no need for anyone to wax poetic about Brian Wilson, musician composer, arranger, producer, hit-maker, icon. For over half a century there has been Brian Wilson. In one way or the other he has influenced the cultural and artistic landscape of the American experience. He was the heart, soul and musical and philosophical engine of the Beach Boys. His songs created the great California myth of what I once called “the sun-drenched hymn to hedonism.” Pretty good resume. He has survived well-documented traumatic hardships from childhood to his years of fame and fortune and the inevitable 1960s cliché fallout of drugs and madness and break-downs, both mentally and physically.wilson_380

Much of this is covered in the new biopic about Wilson, Love & Mercy. The film features two actors, Paul Dano and John Cusak, portraying Wilson as a young man at the height of his musical powers while unraveling from mental illness, and the middle-aged overly-medicated period when he was being manipulated and exploited by the tyrannical Dr. Eugene Landy, played sinisterly by Paul Giamatti. While Wilson did add his expertise and memories to the filming, which he commented was “very factual, accurate, stimulating,” he ultimately found it hard to watch. I saw it weeks after speaking to Wilson and was very moved. The studio sequences recording his two masterpieces, Pet Sounds and Smile truly capture the mood and the significance of the times and add to Wilson’s already legendary status, while his ascent from the abyss is truly inspiration.

Seeing Love & Mercy and reading about Wilson’s harrowing but prolific journey, which takes another step with his recently released album, No Pier Pressure, it would be easy to say that Brian Wilson is the shell of the man who broke molds and conquered the zeitgeist, but that would be short-sighted. What you get from speaking with Brian Wilson today is the real guy, the guy who would never let it all crack his resolve or bend his personality into something he couldn’t recognize. He is by any credible definition of the word, a genius. He is cloaked in it like armor. It precedes him. It defines him.

He speaks in certifiable tones, but with a sweet disposition that is at first alarming and then as comforting as one of his spectacularly arranged five-part harmonies. There is no hesitation in his expression, therefore he doesn’t self-edit for effect. This is a raw psyche; the echoes of a man who brought some important stuff back from the darkness and the light and placed some high stakes in all those strikingly beautiful songs.

What follows here is about fifteen minutes over the phone from Los Angeles of the musings of a living legend, and I don’t think I’m being maudlin or coy or ironic when stating this. In the pantheon of rock and roll, especially during its most experimental, influential and lucrative period, there is Dylan, Lennon and McCartney and Brian Wilson. This is a person you hope to get two minutes with. I got fifteen. And so I asked him things I always wanted to ask Brian Wilson. It was rapid fire and it was thrilling His answers, although appearing in print as curt and often dismissive of detail, in person –hearing his cracked, sing-song voice coming over the phone line – are surprisingly effusive and to the point.

This is a man who has answered countless questions. How could you even begin to put a number on it? People want to know how the genius works, where it comes from, how it goes from the head and the heart to the canvas or the page or the recording. These are the things you think about when gaining access to the artist who has provided the world indisputable greatness. And this is what I think about when Brian Wilson is uttered in my presence. I put it to him and waited breathlessly for the key to the kingdom, so to speak. And I think this discussion, of which I send to press virtually word-for-word, is my few minutes getting to the bottom of genius. I hope I asked the questions you would ask of Brian Wilson. And I hope his answers are enough. They have to be.

 

Brian Wilson: Hi, James!

 

james campion: Mr. Wilson, how are you, sir?

 

BW: Very good.

 

jc: Excellent. I know we have a short amount of time, so I’ll get right to it. I know you’ve probably been asked this a billion times, but I have to do it. I’m a huge fan and you are one of the great composers of the latter half of the twentieth century, so everyone always wants to know where do the songs come from? What is your process? Take me through the Brian Wilson method of writing a song.

 

BW: Well, I go to a studio…there’s a studio I go to and there’s a piano there. I play chords on the piano, and then after awhile a melody starts to come. And after the melody is done, the lyrics start happening.

 

jc: And that’s basically it.

 

BW: Yeah. Basically, yes.

 

jc: When you first started writing songs, which I assume was when you were a teenager or even before that…

 

BW: Well, I started playing piano when I was like…I don’t know…twelve or fourteen? And when I was nineteen I wrote “Surfer Girl”, the first song I ever wrote, and then from there I was a self-taught musician.

 

jc: And do you write basically the same as you did when you were nineteen? Have you changed the process at all through the years?

 

BW: Oh, no, I changed a lot. I’ve changed the process a lot.

 

jc: How so?

 

BW: Well, I used to write more rock and roll type songs, thanks to Chuck Berry.

 

jc: (laughs) Right. You’ve often spoken in the past about capturing sounds on tape that you hear in your head; harmonies, various instrumentation, is there any song that you wrote and recorded that you think came out perfectly, that was exactly how you heard it in your head?

 

BW: Yeah, “California Girls”; some of it I heard in my head and some of it I heard in the studio.

 

jc: So when you listen to that record, even today, you say to yourself, “That is exactly how I pictured it.”

 

BW: Yeah, when it was done I said, “Hey, guys, that sounds exactly how I wanted it to sound like!”

 

jc:  And that never happened again?

 

BW: It happened again with “Good Vibrations”.

 

jc:  Those are the two, huh?

 

BW: Yes.

 

jc: Some pretty good songs, there. I know you’re a big fan of Phil Spector’s sound, and I know you were a Beatles fan, did you ever listen to a song and say, “Wow, not only do I wish I wrote that, but that is really a perfect record”?

 

BW: Yeah, “Let It Be” by Paul McCartney and The Beatles. That’s something where I said, “Boy, I wish I could have written something like that!’

 

jc: (laughs) Well you certainly did in many, many ways. Here’s something I was always interested in asking you. I think it was in your 1990 autobiography, Wouldn’t It Be Nice; you had revealed in that book that you had discovered at some point that placing certain bass lines and notes under a specific chord or specific melodies over other chord progressions would evoke an emotion in listeners; get them to feel melancholy or feel joy or spark memories in them…

 

BW: Well, Pet Sounds was my ballad album; “Caroline No” and “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” were, I think, a very sweet, feminine theme to get across. Those songs were the feminine side of me.

 

jc: I remember as a kid listening to Pet Sounds and getting very emotional, and not because of the lyrics or any particular connection to the themes. I was a kid, yet, I could not escape feeling something mature when listening to that record. It was as if you got across with music these mature themes of love, loss, anxiety, nostalgia. Still, to this day it moves me. Was that something you planned or did it come together in the writing?

 

BW: It actually came together in the writing. Very fast.

 

jc:  That is generally considered your greatest work. Do you think it is?

 

BW: It has to be one of the best albums I ever produced, yeah.

 

jc:  When you heard the Smile stuff that Capitol put out a couple of years ago from the original Beach Boys sessions, much of it unfinished, do you think it captures what you were trying to do with Smile or was it your version that came out about ten years ago?
(Note: Smile was the great and mysterious unfinished opus for Wilson that eventually caused mental exhaustion and his eventual retreat from the mainstream that would cause his reduced role in the Beach Boys)

 

BW: Which version do I prefer?

 

jc: Yeah.

 

BW:  The 2004 version.

 

jc: Your version.

 

BW: Yeah.

 

jc: Did you have anything to do with Capitol’s choice of material or were you surprised that they released it?

 

BW: I was surprised they put it out, yeah.

 

jc: Were you disappointed in how it sounded?

 

BW: A little bit, yeah.

 

jc: Is it because it was unfinished business, it took you back to that time and you said, “Damn it, I wish I had the chance to finish that album the way I originally planned it!”

 

BW: Right! Right on!

 

jc: (laughs) I figured. Just from reading about you and your work on that record and how much it meant to you, the first time I saw it out, I thought, “I wonder what Brian thinks of all this?” You have a new record out, correct?

 

BW:  Yes.

 

jc: Can you tell me about the process of working with this new material and what you may have discovered when writing and recording it?

 

BW: Well, I wrote a couple of the songs back in 1998 that I use on the album and the rest I wrote in 2014.

 

jc:  So it’s been a couple of years in the making?

 

BW: Yes.

 

jc: How do you find performing now? I know that it was something you didn’t really enjoy during the Beach Boys years, but over the past two decades you seem to be playing more and more. Do you enjoy it more now?

 

BW: Some of it. I enjoy some of it, but some of it is a lot of hard work and some of it is an easy-going kind of thing, you know?

jc:  I sure do. You’re known for so many great songs. My favorite is “God Only Knows”. You mentioned that you agree that Pet Sounds is one of if not your finest collected work; do you have any fond memories of writing and recording “God Only Knows”? Do you think that’s something truly special that you nailed there?

 

BW: I worked with my friend, Tony Asher. I started writing a melody and he immediately came up with (sings) “I may not always love you…” and it was a very spontaneous writing session.

 

jc:  I bet its one of those incidents when you think, “Where the hell does this come from?”

 

BW: Right. I said, “What the fuck?”

 

jc:  (laughs)

 

BW: Yeah. Yeah.

 

jc:  That song has been used in so many films and it never fails to move people. Did you ever see it used with visuals, in whatever capacity, and agree that it works on that level?

 

BW: Most of it works, although I’m not really sure where it ended up, whether television programs or movies or whatever, but I do know that whenever they do use it I hear, “Good job.”

 

jc:  (laughs) What part of your legacy do you enjoy the most? What is the talent you are most proud of – the songwriting, the producing, arranging, your building the Beach Boys into this iconic piece of Americana? How do you want to be remembered?

 

BW: Well, to tell you the truth my singing means more to me than anything.

 

jc: Sure. I’m sorry I didn’t even bring that one up. Of course, the singing. Would you say that’s also the most fun you had working with the Beach Boys in the studio, getting all those wonderful vocal harmonies together?

 

BW: Yeah, that was the fun part! The hard part was producing. That was the hardest part of it for me. Producing was rough, but singing always came very naturally, effortlessly. You know…an artist expresses.

“Don’t take drugs, write songs on the natch.”

jc: And that is your most cherished expression as an artist, your singing.

 

BW: Right. Right.

 

jc: There’s a film out right now about the famed Wrecking Crew, a working studio session band that played on so many hits of the 1960s, including a lot of the Beach Boys stuff. Can you talk about working with those kind of top musicians in the field and producing the incredible records you did with them?

 

BW: I worked with some of the more well-known musicians in Los Angeles like Hal Blaine (drummer), Carol Kaye (bassist), John Randy (keyboardist), Steve Douglas (saxophonist), and so many others. They worked with other producers around L.A., but we did some great work together.

 

jc:  Is there a song you heard when you were a kid that turned you on, influenced you more than the others?

 

BW: Well, “Rhapsody in Blue” comes to mind. I think “Rhapsody in Blue”. That was the song that got to my heart the most.

 

jc:  Do you listen to any music of today that moves you, influences you? Who are the great songwriters today?

 

BW: Well, I listen to a lot of 80s music. There’s so many artists from the 80s, Rod Stewart, Billy Idol, Blondie, just a lot of groups I like. I listen to 80s music all the time.

 

jc:  In all the years you’ve collaborated with quite a few lyricists and songwriters, is there anybody that you wish you could work with that you haven’t?

 

BW: Paul McCartney.

 

jc:  I can’t believe you two guys haven’t written a song together; after all the years. You guys respected each other’s talents so much, influenced each other to greater works, the Beatles pushing the Beach Boys and vice versa. It’s hard to believe there is no Wilson/McCartney composition?

 

BW: Are you kidding? I haven’t had the chance!

 

jc:  Somebody has to get that going.

 

BW: Yuuuup.

 

jc: Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson that would be something.

 

BW: That would be a trip.

 

jc: (laughs) Sure would. What is the one thing, you would say, a songwriter today needs to focus on? What is your advice for the kid now cobbling songs together and starting a band?

 

BW: I would have to say…okay…okay…I would say don’t take drugs, write songs on the natch.

 

jc:  Got it.

 

BW: Don’t take drugs, write songs on the natch.

 

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