Attorneys General Rogue Past

Aquarian Weekly 6/27/12 REALITY CHECK


History lesson, kids.


Okay, can you name a single United States attorney general that has not broken some kind of major law in the past, I don’t know, let’s say half century?

I cannot.

Eric HolderWell, there are a few, William B. Saxbe, Griffin Bell, and maybe two other guys. There’s also the technicality of what a certain attorney general did before taking the office, like Nicholas Katzenbach, who as deputy attorney general drafted the infamous memo to the dubious Warren Commission that cast light on a government cover-up of the JFK assassination: “The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he had no confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial…Speculation about Oswald’s motivation ought to be cut off…Unfortunately the facts on Oswald seem about too pat–too obvious (Marxist, Cuba, Russian wife, etc.)…We need something to head off public speculation or Congressional hearings of the wrong sort.”

Be that as it may, the list of attorneys general, the chief law officer in the nation, having made mincemeat of some portion of the U.S. constitution is long. Very long.

For the purposes of current events, let’s first discuss the sitting attorney general, Eric Holder, who has been in the news for the Fast & Furious mess that has sullied his status, career and reputation. Without delving too deeply into Holder’s shenanigans here, there is absolutely nothing, not some, nothing that is legal about what Fast & Furious was supposed to achieve. Handing over a spectacular cache of weaponry to Mexican drug lords to track their use that ends up in the murder of an American border patrol agent is hardly murky. It’s indefensible. He simply belongs in prison for this. Not sure what has kept him working all this time. Election year? The possession of nude pictures of the first lady?

Holder’s screw up in all its drug running gun toting glory is a doozy, no question, but what I’m after is bigger; an explanation on why these top level law officers, specifically during my lifetime, have shown a complete disregard for the law. It’s as if by merely representing a concept, it is an invitation to flout it.

Power grab? Circumstance? Bad luck?

It is not coincidental that there has been a spate of attorneys general that for one excuse after another ignored their station — national security being the niftiest excuse — to better treat the law of the land as toilet paper.

Most recently was George W. Bush’s Alberto Gonzalez, who was for all intents and purposes using the Department of Justice as a political tool to launch trumped-up investigations of Democratic congressmen.

Before Gonzalez, John Ashcroft’s Patriot Act was so blatantly unconstitutional it was almost surreal, the only thing that topped it was the complete capitulation of the electorate, including yours truly, figuring that it was so off the charts loony that there was no way to actually enforce half of it. This of course turned out to be true, as the hundreds of lawsuits brought against the government has been successful. It became so messy for Ashcroft, he had to bail after memos circulated amongst his staff that the Justice Department handed iron-fisted powers of surveillance and torture to the executive branch, which included ignoring of the Third Geneva Convention, the ABM Treaty and the convenient sidestep of the First and Fourth Amendments under the auspices of “national security”.

It is not coincidental that there has been a spate of attorneys general that for one excuse after another ignored their station — national security being the niftiest excuse — to better treat the law of the land as toilet paper.

Janet Reno, serving as Bill Clinton’s attorney general, acted on flimsy intelligence about “militia groups” and presided over the massacre of 76 Americans in a compound outside Waco, Texas. For reasons only know to her, a lunatic preacher and his wisecracking and heavily armed Branch Davidians (many of them women and children) deserved to be eradicated with full military force. Later, Reno was held, as is Holder, in contempt of congress for withholding documents implicating the justice department for failing to pursue investigations of known Democratic donors.

That brings us to my favorite, Edwin Meese, as terrible a human being, assuming he was one, as has ever held high office in this land, and that, my friends, is saying something. Funny thing is he isn’t close to the worst attorney general. Meese was charged but not convicted (a technicality at best) and later resigned in disgrace over the Wedtech Scandal, wherein a company he was culling a paycheck from was given easy access to Department of Defense contracts that cost taxpayers millions. But that pales in comparison to the unmitigated contempt Meese held for the First Amendment, which he attacked ceaselessly by harassing every avenue of free expression above and beyond any sane description of his job. And should I bother going into his shameless manipulation behind the scenes to successfully, for a time, keep the dirt off his boss, Ronald Reagan for the outlandishly illegal Iran/Contra affair?

Reagan’s previous attorney general, William French Smith was another in a long line to be held in contempt of congress. This time it was Smith’s turn to withhold documents during an investigation of General Dynamics Corp., a weapons company in the pocket of the federal government for decades.

But Reagan’s clan was not nearly as roguish as Dick Nixon’s.

First, there’s John Mitchell, who paid money to everyone under the sun to commit a series of covert spying crimes against American citizens and sitting government officials, amongst other “national security” concerns surrounding students, protestors and private churches. Mitchell was clinically insane and was sacked by Nixon to parade in a cabal of attorneys general to keep the president from going to jail, including Richard Kleindienst, whose silence in the face of several pay-offs for a phalanx of criminals launched from inside the White House during the Watergate crisis lead eventually to Robert Bork, who carried out Nixon’s manic “Saturday Night Massacre”. This included, among a host of many others, the firing of his predecessor, Eliot Richardson, who had the job for five months.

This was what they call in the law business, the golden age of mayhem.

Then there is the curious case of Robert Kennedy, who had never tried a single case in any court in any land. In a case of nepotism run amok, Kennedy was given the post by his brother as payback for his father’s fixing the 1960 general election in at least five states. And although never outwardly breaking the law, RFK used his position and unusual access to the highest office in the land to heights never intended for attorney general. These include the covert negotiations with Soviet diplomats over the deployment of U.S. missiles in Turkey during the Cuban Missile Crisis and ushering prostitutes and starlets for JFK’s favor to and from the secret White House pool.

Not sure any of the above has to do with interpreting the law unless it is to interpret it through the prism of, at best, questionable behavior, which is what Eric Holder is now doing in the great tradition of the office.


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Alice Cooper: American Treasure

Aquarian Weekly 6/20/12 Buzz

The Coop Talks R & R Hall of Fame, Boring Bands & The Genius/Idiot Maxim

Alice Cooper is an American treasure and he knows it. Once the viscous, drunken villain of rock and roll and a threat to the very decency of our moral foundation has transformed into the clean and sober fist-pumping defiant champion of our hearts. “I’m lovable,” he says with a mischievous chuckle. But then Alice Cooper may not be in the mood to return the favor. Rebuffed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for decades, he was granted entry last year as the pioneer member of what he calls “the lunatic fringe” that will break the seal and let in all the maniacs. He’s also quite miffed at what passes for “great rock and roll bands” these days.

Alice Cooper

Currently sharing a tour with Iron Maiden, (one of the “lunatic fringe” long ignored by the elitist rock press) he is riding high after the recent popularity of his sequel to the legendary Welcome to My Nightmare (Welcome 2 My Nightmare), a title which he thinks is “so damn clever”, the soon-to-be released on DVD for the first time, “The Strange Case of Alice Cooper” and an enormous box set called “Old School”, which features a healthy sampling of the vicious, drunken villain days.

The Coop took time for our second chat in the last few years after a rigorous round of golf and a yearning to get back on the road by his lonesome later this summer into the fall.

The first question I must ask, and it has to be framed as any self-respecting Alice Cooper fan would: How important does the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame feel that it now has the great Alice Cooper as one of its own?

What I think it did was open the door to acts that were probably gonna have a hard time. When you get an Alice Cooper in it kind of breaks some new ground in there for bands like KISS or Iron Maiden. Even though we sold fifty million records, I mean, we had all of the qualifications to be in; it’s just that Alice Cooper’s image was that of the outsider and I think there are a lot of bands that are outsider bands. As commercial as KISS are, they’re an outsider band. So I think us getting in opened the door for harder rock bands.

For a Seventies kid, I mean, ignoring Alice Cooper? I know you had the theatrics, which unfairly always seems to put you in danger of the novelty label, but what you guys did as a band and your solo work defined rock music for that generation, especially as innovators. It’s as if the voters feel the need to ignore the impact of that period and the bands that dominated it.

Far more important for me was the music. It’s nice to have all the trappings and we did break a lot of ground when it came to our kind of shows, I mean nobody had ever even used up-lighting or down-lighting before us. We were the first ones to use truss lighting, which is still a big influence on what’s going on today. But the fact that the songs and the albums still hold up, I think it finally proves what we said all along: We spent ninety percent of our time on the music and like ten percent of the time on the theatrics. The theatrics came easy to us. It was the music that we really had to work at and I think we’re being cited for the music as much as anything else.

The music triggered a great deal of the theatrics from the beginning. Each of your albums always appeared to have a theme and a different characterization of the Alice that would inform the shows.

“Go out as far as you can on that limb and either be a genius or an idiot. If you’re an idiot, you fall off the limb and then you climb the tree and do it again. There’s nothing that says you can’t climb the tree again. But whatever you do, don’t stay in the middle. Never stay in that gray, mediocre area. Go out and do something that’s gonna startle everybody or that’s gonna make everybody think of you when they think of that.

To me, I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but I’ve always thought of everything in concepts from the very beginning. It always seemed to me that any song is conceptual. For instance, if you come up with a title, any title at all, I don’t care what it is, it could be “Welcome to My Nightmare”, so write a show around that. “Welcome to My Nightmare”? Okay, what does it consist of? All right, we’ve got a little kid that can’t wake up from his nightmare. Okay, that’s good, now what happens to him? So for me, right there, I start writing out the whole idea of the story and then I start filling in the details as songs. So, okay, there’ll be “Cold Ethyl”. She’ll be this fantasy love character and maybe she’s dead. I don’t know; let’s make that part of the nightmare. “Only Women Bleed”? Let’s make that part of the nightmare. It was always like that for me. I can’t not think in terms of concepts. It’s automatic to me. I think every album I’ve done has been a conceptual album in my head.

There was a great deal of pressure on you when you went solo with the original Welcome to My Nightmare, which was a Herculean undertaking; a multi-media idea from album to concert to film, etc.

Yup. It was a giant roll of the dice. I’m telling you, if it wouldn’t have worked…and I always tell bands this, and I just told the graduating students at the Music Institute out in California, “Here’s your choices; climb out on the limb and you’re either going to be a genius or an idiot.” (laughs) You know, go out as far as you can on that limb and either be a genius or an idiot. If you’re an idiot, you fall off the limb and then you climb the tree and do it again. There’s nothing that says you can’t climb the tree again. But whatever you do, don’t stay in the middle. Never stay in that gray, mediocre area. Go out and do something that’s gonna startle everybody or that’s gonna make everybody think of you when they think of that. So Welcome to My Nightmare was one of those defining moments of “I talk the talk, am I gonna walk the walk?” And Shep Gordon (longtime manager) and I and Bob Ezrin (longtime collaborator and producer) put all of our money into that show and if it would have been a failure we would have had to start all over again.

And you know the brilliant duality of what you just said is that in that show you are both the idiot and the genius.

And you know, I always have been. I’ve always wanted Alice to be this arrogant villain that’s also vulnerable. In other words, he may be – and I always liken him to an Allan Rickman type, you know, “Cancel Christmas!” that kind of overblown villain. But you just know at some point he’s gonna slip on a banana peel. (laughs) And at that moment, how does he recover? That’s the humor of Alice right there.

Sure, and you had mentioned the last time we spoke of the two Alices; the one when you were drinking heavily, the victim, and the one now that you’re clean and sober, the fist-pumping defiant Alice.

When I look at video from back then I see him as a total victim. Even his posture was a total victim’s posture and what was he singing about? What was happening? He was the whipping boy. Everybody hated him. And a lot of kids on the outskirts really related to that.

We sure did.

They related by saying, “I’m that guy. I’m the one everybody hates. I’m the one that doesn’t fit in”, so he was sort of the poster boy for all the misfits. So when I got sober I said, “I really don’t want to be that guy anymore. Now I want to be the guy who’s the controlling villain. I want to be Moriarty now, play Alice like that, and I think because of that transformation Alice has gotten a whole new life.

How has Alice Cooper stayed in the public conscience for so long? My four year-old daughter loves Alice Cooper. He is ingrained in the fabric of our culture. Where do you think Alice fits into our collective subconscious?

Welcome 2 My NightmareI think what it is, Alice was young and dangerous and vicious, and now Alice is more of a Vincent Price. I think Alice is woven into the conscience of America. I’m sort of an American treasure now. (laughs) The same way Iggy Pop is, guys like that who survived forty-five, fifty years in the business and they’re still doing it and just keep going. I think we’re not as dangerous as we are lovable. And that’s a great thing. It’s fun for me. I don’t feel the pressure of having to outdo myself anymore. I mean, we’re clever enough to make the show clever every time, but I’m not trying to outdo Nightmare.

First of all, it’s a different world now. When you do two or three theatrical things on stage people are just wowed, because everything is so boring out there right now. It is one of the most boring periods of music I’ve ever witnessed in rock and roll. I mean, the bands that are being touted as the great bands right now are the most boring bands. They wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the Seventies. There’s just no testosterone in these bands. It’s like these young bands are afraid to be rock and roll guys. They’re timid, they’re going, (whines) I… don’t…know….”

I talk to Steven Tyler, Iggy, Ted Nugent, all the guys who were the big image guys, and they’re all looking around goin’, “What happened to rock and roll? When did we get so pabulum?” You know, there are a few; the Foo Fighters are great. The Foo Fighters would have fit right in during the Seventies. I mean, they’re a Seventies band. Jack White challenges everybody. I love that guy. But I look at the charts or the cover of these magazines and the headline is “This is the greatest new band” and I go, “There’s an accordion in this band! There’s a ukulele in this band!” What’s wrong with these people? (laughs) Honestly!

So as long as they’re gonna do that, then bands like Aerosmith, Alice, Ozzy, The Rolling Stones, whoever it is, are going to keep chewing up the landscape. ‘Cause I’m not backing down! I’m gonna do the hardest show I can do. I’m gonna do the most edgy show I can do. I give credit to Dee Snider. I give credit to Rob Zombie. Those are guys who finally got their teeth into this thing. If it’s gonna be a show, make it a show! Boy, am I disappointed when I look around at some of these new bands. Wow, do we need a shot of adrenaline.

Speaking of which, you’re on the road now with Iron Maiden. Will the Alice Cooper fans get their just deserts?

Well, actually the new show won’t start ’till October. When we’re working with Iron Maiden as the guest stars, we’re only doing an hour. We’re going to be doing some of the theatrics, but all of its going to be the biggest hits. This band I’ve got is great. Ryan Roxy is back. I’ve got Oriente, Tommy Hendrickson. So I’ve got three great guitar players right there, and I’ve got Chuck Garric on bass and Glenn (Sobel) on drums and it’s gonna be a really tough, good band, and to me that’s all I can really do on this show. We’ll do some theatrics, you know, we’ll have fun with it, of course, but when we go out in October with our own show, basically it’s going to be an entirely new show.

All right, we’ll have to talk then. You’ll have to give me all the details.

Yeah, yeah, and honestly the stuff that’s being built right now and the stuff being put together for that is really exciting. We’ve had meetings with directors and stuff like that and it will be something that will really make people smile, ’cause it’s pure Alice.

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Dan Bern – Drifter

Aquarian Weekly 6/20/12

Prolific Songwriter’s Ode to Perpetual Motion

I first heard a selection of the songs that ended up on Dan Bern’s brilliant new record, Drifter in November of last year in the lobby of a refurbished theater in Beacon, New York and then the next day during a promotional live web cast for a magazine in downtown Manhattan. He played a few more at Joe’s Pub in Greenwich Village that night and in late-December at Mexicali’s Blues Café in Teaneck, New Jersey. Separated from the eventual collected work, which both musically and lyrically segues in and out of each song as if psychic travelogue – a yearning to discover, hide, escape and return to a home that is at once geographical and spiritual – it was as if Bern were symbolically ushering the songs through a rigorous performance trial, first solo and then with his new collaborators, the creatively versatile Common Rotation.

Drifter - Dan BernLater in the winter, as is his wont, Bern sent me a rough mix of the material he wanted to put on the eventual release. For weeks I played it in my office, in the car, and in the background during gatherings of the local tribes, but it wasn’t until late one night that it hit me; this is as close to a running commentary on the American folk ethic as could be laid down in one place; a literal ode to perpetual motion; Jay Gatsby’s ride through the valley of ashes to his unreachable green light at the end of the dock.

Drifter is a statement; Bern’s, a generation’s, a genre’s; the effects of traveling on the traveler for good or ill. It is survival. It is change. It is acceptance. Serpentine movement as philosophical, ethereal, political, nostalgic, narcotic, and introspective on tracks like “Luke the Drifter”, “Raining in Madrid” and “Haarlem”, “Carried Away”, “Home” and “Mexican Vacation”, “I’m Not From Around Here” and “Love Makes All The Other Worlds Go Round”, which is the type of denouement that eases seamlessly into the epilogue of “These Living Dreams”. Many, if not all the songs deal with a transitory experience; aging, evolving, moving along through life observationally; it is also replete with an imagining of a better “place” through vivid dreams and visions of hope.

A concept record? Nah. Bern was quick to dismiss that on a late-night phone call in March, after I sent him a manically cobbled deconstruction of the record under the influence of my sudden epiphany. Hell, who isn’t swept up in the lure of the road? And what writer (and Bern is nothing if not one) has not tackled its seduction from Homer to Joyce, Horace Greeley to Woody Guthrie, Kerouac to yours truly.

“I think subconsciously you choose what you choose to tell your stories about, but it’s not a conscious effort on my part,” Bern explained when a proper interview commenced in early June. “I’m not clever enough to make up something and realize its metaphoric significance, though I do think it’s a beautiful thing when the listener acts as my interpreter and takes the ride to that degree. That’s all I ever want from any song. It’s what any songwriter can ask; that the listener wrestles with it and lets the ideas reveal themselves. For me, it’s all the stuff of my mundane little life lifted by the power of song and maybe, subconsciously, you’ll tap into these things because similar experiences come up in all of our lives.”

Bern’s protestations to the contrary, these songs are not disparate ballads or ravers, wise-guy sing-a-longs or political harangues, the likes of which he has mastered over 16 years spanning 18 albums. “Maybe this is my swansong for that character,” Bern says. “But then again, maybe it never goes away.” Or as he sings in “Luke the Drifter” (the title a reference to country legend Hank Williams’ non-deplume); “Go or stay, one or the other.”

Drifter is a singular vision of a journey, the infinite search through snapshots and notations of every can-kicking crossroad conundrum. “Ooh, I do my share, I knock about/Is anything gonna work out”? he sings in the hauntingly beautiful “The Golden Voice of Vin Scully”; as the interior echoes of the radio wave acts as a north star in a desert-scape Californian hymn worthy of Georgia O’Keefe’s pallet.

“Ultimately this stuff is therapy, isn’t it?” Bern muses. “Any literature is interpretation, the only difference being that most of the time you’re not talking to the writer.”

Drifter‘s topographical references are vast. We visit the Milky Way, the moon, Madrid, Hollywood, New York City, Capetown, Johannesburg, North of Seattle to the Mexico line, San Bernardino, Haarlem, the black hills of Ohio/Wisconsin to the Indiana mud, the Canadian border, Philadelphia, West Virginia, and the solar system. Then there is time travel as in “Mexican Vacation”, where a train moves the narrator through the anarchic landscape of a pre-historic American construct overrun with slave-traders as he professes his love for the “runaway slave girl”.

“The truth is I worked on this record three-times longer than anything I’ve ever done,” Bern sighs when confronted with the events of the past three and a half years. “It becomes this thing that every little change that occurs in your sphere you apply it.”

A sense of travel even appears when we’re stuck in the obligatory isolation chamber of the traveling musician, the hotel room, which is wistfully depicted in “Party by Myself”. Bern’s bittersweet sampling of embraceable loneliness and mind-altering inertia is not unlike being suspended in outer space or in a capsule, which appears, as in the classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey to be still but is actually moving. Most interesting is Bern’s use of the two-dimensional image of Captain Kirk flickering on the tube; another iconic character set adrift “boldly going where no man has gone before”.

Kirk appears, as do all of Bern’s pop culture/historical figure references, brimming with symbolism, not the least of which is his nod to Jonathan Swift who penned the immortal Gulliver’s Travels and for whom the poet W.P. Yeats once described in his epitaph as the “world-besotted traveler”.

“I suppose the interesting thing is that these songs were written at different times, instead of a concentrated period,” says Bern when pressed again about this coincidental subconscious spate of songs with the central theme of the passerby. “I started to write songs like ‘Raining in Madrid’ and ‘Haarlem’ in those places, while ‘Capetown’ is sort of a flight of the mind. And then, you know, LuLu came (his two-year old daughter), I moved out here (from New Mexico to Los Angeles) and, yeah, I think that kind of sparked the whole thing.”

I count Dan Bern as one of my closest colleagues and in many ways a brother-in-arms. We have tracked the bloody grounds of political and social battles and acted as sounding boards for each other’s work for close to a decade. Both of us have fathered daughters within a few years of each other and watched our generation begin to take charge of all that we railed against in our youth; the destruction of the earth, the systemic killing of innocents, the segmental repression of society, the global economic power-play, and we even managed to elect our own leader of the free world, and yet watch in horror as the madness continues unabated.

“Yeah, that’s true,” Bern chuckles, as he usually does when confronted by larger issues before whittling it down to his own corner of the world. “But what’s true at the same time is we’re getting older and we have a feeling of our own mortality; we’re not young bucks anymore.” And then he makes sure I know that he doesn’t feel particularly in charge of anything.”I’m not even in charge of my house!” he laughs.

This may well be why Drifter is filled with the temporary escape provided by chemicals and booze, which pop up as playful landmarks along the way. Senses dulled just enough to continue the search for anything; integrity, friendship, love, comfort? “Will I see you in the street tonight?” Bern sings in “Raining in Madrid”, as if drifting into random social interaction. But in “Home” his search flirts with futility; “Like a vagabond out on the lawn, I was almost gone”, but then suddenly he sings; “Find out who will stick it through thick and thin, lose or win, it’s how you get some place.”

The passion of the search has certainly inspired Bern’s singing. He has never sounded better or more controlled, completely at ease with these wonderfully crafted pieces; each one fastidiously pored over with absorbing precision. Here Common Rotation’s honeyed harmonies and weathered accompaniment on trumpet and banjo (Jordan Katz), harmonica and saxophone (Adam Busch) and guitar and dobro (Eric Kufs) lend the songs a weight they crave, a deserving ensemble for their poetic resonance.

“The truth is I worked on this record three-times longer than anything I’ve ever done,” Bern sighs when confronted with the events of the past three-and-a-half years. “It becomes this thing that every little change that occurs in your sphere you apply it.”

The story of the making of Drifter could well have found its way into the work, as Bern and his ensemble, absent the umbrella of a record company this time around, sold songs, studio time, played private gigs and even composed personal jingles for outgoing phone messages for a host of donors all over the country; the time, expanse, and constant dissection of the project adding to its charm.

“The biggest thing is I didn’t have a wad of record company dough to go in and just do it,” Bern explains. “This record was done on everybody’s good graces and time. Money talks. It gets things done. It books studio time, it pays for musicians, it moves things along. And in a place like L.A. there’s all the people you want, but everybody’s doing a trillion things.”

Some of those people, like film songwriting partner, Mike Viola and a stirring guest appearance by the incomparable Emmy Lou Harris on the moving, “Swing Set”, serves the travel aesthetic well. We stop off into different voices and pass through musical styles, providing a station-to-station, truck stop ambiance of the rootless existence. “There’s a line through this record, for sure,” admits Bern. “And that’s why I worked so hard to get to a sequence that works. It’s like you wouldn’t routinely skip over a scene in a movie to get to the next one. Even though there are fifteen songs here, they all play a role. Basically if something’s on there, it’s because it wouldn’t allow itself to be thrown off. It forced its way in and wouldn’t let go.”

Bern says the sequence of the songs became “like an accordion” for months upon months, jumping the total from 15 songs down to 12 and in some cases just eight and then back up again. “I finally went to Chuck Plotkin (famed producer of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, as well as Bern’s 2002 masterwork, New American Language) and sat with he and his wife for two full afternoons,” recounts Bern.

“Turns out, I had the bulk of the run down, but he made a couple of important switches, which tied everything up. For me, if Chuck says it’s okay, then it’s okay.”

“I can’t tell you how much of my energy, attention, DNA is in Drifter.”

Once given the thumbs up from his musical sherpa, Bern quickly shifted gears and recorded 18 of his baseball songs with Common Rotation. Culled from nearly thirty years of work, which spans a century of the game’s most compelling characters and stories from The Babe to Barry Bonds, Doubleheader, aptly titled due to the 18 song list – a song an inning – will be released on the heels of Drifter on July 4 when Bern plays the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. “We just finished it six weeks ago,” he says excitedly, as if relieved to be free from the looming stranglehold of the Drifter marathon. “We just went in and did it all at once, boom; now all these songs I’ve been carrying around are under one roof.”

Beyond wrapping up Drifter and banging out Doubleheader, Bern hints that a third record of country songs, which he whispers may be the best of the three, is ready to go. “Probably for a good ten, fifteen years I was writing on average a song every ten days, like eighty songs a year, but now that seems paltry,” laughs Bern. “I pat myself on the back now if I can get through a tour without writing a song, allowing myself to stay present, because what writing does, as much as it’s this amazing thing that freezes moments, what you’re doing is freezing a rapidly approaching past moment. So while you’re scribbling and drawing your brain cells for a rhyme, maybe you miss that next passing cloud.”

And so here is Dan Bern, putting a ribbon on his troubadour life and turning his attention to the pastoral lore of the grand old game, which James Earl Jones so poignantly performed in Field of Dreams, a film more about the passage of time and the evolution of spirit than baseball. He could well have been reciting from Drifter. “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.” Or as Bern sings in the refrain of “Luke the Drifter”; “Oh, life ain’t tragic mostly/Life is magic somely “

“I can’t tell you how much of my energy, attention, DNA is in Drifter,” concludes Bern. “But I am so personally relieved to not have to think about it anymore on a daily basis. It’s a happy, guilty, candy pleasure to talk about baseball. I guess it’s just easier to talk about baseball than myself.”

Drifting….drifting….drifting along.

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The Summer of Obama

Aquarian Weekly 6/20/12 REALITY CHECK


A national political campaign is better than the best circus, with a mass baptism and couple of hangings thrown in. – H.L. Mencken

The stomp outweighs the gavel where persecution reigns. – Marquis De Sade’s aid-de-campe

With the notable exception of 2008, when there was no one left to defend or explain the abysmal eight years of George W. Bush, all election seasons are about the incumbent — his economy, his international standing, his policies, his leadership, his likeability and the confidence in the citizenry to either award him another four years or be so completely frightened or apathetic about his opponent, the choice is down to the lesser of two evils. Outside influences like hostages or a complete unforeseen economic meltdown and/or the random “October Surprise” not withstanding, that’s pretty much it. And in the cycles of an election season, none is crueler than summer. The best and the brightest, strong incumbents like Roosevelt or Reagan or even Nixon, have felt the sting of summer polls, dips in voter confidence, et al. But for the shaky ones, like the one we have now, the summer can be the death knell.

Barack ObamaIt’s time for those in the White House to get real about how they plan on defending this presidency. The hackneyed early pounding of challenger Mitt Romney by what appears to be a close-your-eyes-and-aim-a-dart strategy at the Barack Obama re-election committee has been weak and mostly ineffectual — and not because Romney isn’t one of the worst candidates in recent memory. Hell, a good deal of the underground element of his party never wanted him. I have yet to hear a single Republican or conservative friend or colleague — as long as they are not in the employ of the GOP — say anything positive about their candidate, except that he isn’t Barack Obama. Also, these same types who keep writing me missives that begin with “Beware the TEA Party” have yet to explain how the hell this fat-cat establishment stooge is their representative after six months of a long Republican primary.

No, Romney stinks, just like John Kerry stunk the last time we had a weak incumbent ready to be had. Kerry’s stench didn’t fully reveal itself until September. That’s about when the “I’m not Obama” thing will wear thing for Romney. He had better be about something and have a semblance of an alternative vision, because if he has to survive on cult of personality or tangible elements, he is toast. But in the summer of an election year when the warts of a presidency are out in full force, it’s all about The Man. And for Joe Cool, there are warts.

This economy, although rightly argued by the White House as markedly better than it was when Obama took office (Dow at 7,500 and the private sector losing 800,000 jobs monthly), it is hardly a scintilla of what was projected or even promised by his crack economic team of Wall St. punks and Clinton-era has-beens. The massive stimulus was hijacked by liberal lions in the congress — a congress that was controlled for four years, two under the president, before being ousted in 2010 in the wake of a slipshod and soon-to-be decided by the Supreme Court “unconstitutional” boondoggle of a Health Care Law.

And while this president has been more effective at this illicit and wholly vague “war on terror” than the cowboy president who preceded him, his ramping up the heat in Afghanistan and the blithe dismissal of most of its dead-end policies has been egregious. Remember, this is our anti-war candidate, who has assassinated more disparate terrorists than any president in history, included in the carnage are an America citizen and the man responsible for 9/11. The chances now or anytime that this guy, or anyone, least of all another Ivy League wimp trying to appear tough, is going to end this perpetual state of war is nil. It has been and will be the bankruptcy of this nation, because even purportedly fiscal conservative voices are in favor of never-ending aggression. Obama has done nothing to curtail it, if anything he has to done the opposite.

Shit, can Joe Cool run on this at best shaky and at worst horrid record of economic solvency, as instituted nearly a century ago, or will this be about how shitty Romney is or how shitty the Republicans were in the first place?

Apparently, even in the bitter heat and unforgiving light for summer, six out of ten voters still dig Joe Cool. And why not? He’s still the young candidate (Romney being another tired Baby Boomer nudge), articulate (except when explaining the actual gig he’s been given) and he’s overseen, Afghanistan aside, an overall responsible and effective foreign policy (the Libyan move — which I mocked ceaselessly — was a win-win).

But these same voters do not want more spending or more pathetic excuses about The Right blocking all these infusive economic salves. There is only a Right because in the dust of a Republican spending surge for the better part of a decade, leftist banshees like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid ram-rodded the usual parade of government overreach and caused a backlash. Being shocked that the opposition party, roundly mandated by the electorate in 2010, is blocking your agenda is like being surprised when a TV ad is biased towards the product it’s hawking.

Of course all this pales to the woeful economic numbers that for good or ill (and it has mostly been ill for presidents since FDR made it the business of the executive branch to be responsible for American fiscal solvency) are crushing Joe Cool weekly. Thanks for the most part to Republicans like Coolidge first and Hoover last, both of whom chose to ignore one out of every four Americans being out of work for three solid years prior to Roosevelt’s madness, the country as a whole has henceforth accepted the assistance and regulatory powers of the federal government over the monolithic banking system.

Trouble for this president is his desire to play the middle. Thus, he’s painted as a big-government liberal (in some goofy places as a socialist) as he cow-tows to the interests of speculators, banks, unions, and manufacturers, while also managing to pay lip service to the Dodd-Frank bill, which was passed under a Democratic congress and never certified. The Left claim it doesn’t exist, and what happened last month to J.P. Morgan Chase makes it clear that Joe Cool has no clear footing on either side of the aisle.

And thus here we are, as we were in the summer of 2004 when I sent to press the summation of what this fall’s election should be about: “George W. Bush was ready to be had by anyone aggressive and smart enough to build a viable alternative argument to massive job losses, a throbbing recession, the most spendthrift administration since FDR, and the worst post-war effort ever bungled by a sovereign nation. This election is supposed to be a referendum on the incumbent’s standing. It was ripe for a legitimate challenger to seize the opportunity to engage a debate on its merits.”

Karl Rove brilliantly framed it about gay marriage and soccer mom fear mongering and re-elected a dunce, who continued to care take the greatest economic collapse in eight decades, as will be the case this time around for Barack Obama. Second terms in my lifetime have been doom chambers. No one can survive it, least of all a polarized nation of overfed and over-stimulated mutants ramped with fear over some bullshit they read in a random screed like this nonsense.

But at least I am willing to go on record calling it nonsense, rather than commentary or analysis, even though it is as salient as any crap I’ve read from anyone for months. Shit, can Joe Cool run on this at best shaky and at worst horrid record of economic solvency, as instituted nearly a century ago, or will this be about how shitty Romney is or how shitty the Republicans were in the first place?

Hell if I know, but I do know it’s time for this president to get himself a helmet.

As Voodoo Princess Madam Sissy Meechum says, “It’s a long summer.”


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Wisconsin Recall Bust

Aquarian Weekly 6/13/12 REALITY CHECK

RECALL BUST Wisconsin Makes Big Bucks Off Political Theater

As far as Machiavellian political maneuvers go, The Wisconsin recall election was a bust. Governor Scott Walker, who had already won an election two years ago, was forced to run again over some bogus Democratic Party/Federal Employee Union petition by barely a quarter of the state. Worse yet, he had to spend time and energy defeating the same guy he roundly beat 17 months prior. As far as a media blitz, though, it was hugely successful. Cable news got two to three weeks of host yammering and a spate of bemused reporters standing in front of statehouses. It certainly beats the hell out of covering the completely meaningless New Jersey Republican primary. But where it really hit a home run was the influx of national attention and state funds that poured into Wisconsin during the thing.

Scott WalkerIt is the first time outside a Green Bay Packers run that the citizens of Wisconsin have appeared this relevant. Wild protests, legal wrangling, heated debates, backdoor deals, inter-party tensions, walkouts, brawls, and the rare recall election option put the Badger/Cheese state in play. Turns out its young governor, a nerdish wonk, the kind of dweeb beaten repeatedly for most of his early life is no evil genius or dark figure. Hardly. He’s white bread, middle-America haircut material, an eat-your-vegetable-and-hold-your-nose austerity chief. Walker is nothing if not a microcosm of what you get from say a Mitt Romney or Quint from “Jaws” — Sorry, folks, this place is insolvent; time to suck it up, so we can get your businesses back on a payin’ basis.

Which brings us to the money.

The Republican Party and its anti-union interests (13 out-of-state billionaires) poured in a surplus of $30 million with nearly four million contributed to pro-union and Democratic Party brokers, about an 8 to 1 split in favor of the governor. The totals ended up around a cool $62 million to basically put on a show for the nation; big time profits that will do more to yank the state from its morass than anything Walker could have accomplished in a decade.

It was a Mr. Magoo deal; dumbass incompetence falling ass-backwards into riches; a state version of Donald Trump complete with the gibberish.

But aside from opening up the cash coffers and exciting political junkies, the Wisconsin Recall came and went with everything remaining in place; people who want to be are convinced this is a TEA Party victory and have claimed it so, and others have called it the bane of modern draconian politics from the Right, as Bill Clinton did in his brilliantly conniving way the other day when he couched all this Republican austerity with the disasters in Greece, France and Spain; where the entitlement swansong has led to double-digit unemployment and teen rioting.

None of this is true, of course.

It was a Mr. Magoo deal; dumbass incompetence falling ass-backwards into riches; a state version of Donald Trump complete with the gibberish.

The Wisconsin Recall had nothing to do with the all-but dead TEA Party or the new Clintonion “vast right wing conspiracy”. It merely made the citizens of the state re-do a vote for the guy they voted for in the first place. Disagreeing with the governance of an official is no reason to rouse up a recall; malfeasance, mental incompetence or blatant disregard for the state constitution, maybe. Otherwise you are assured that a minimum 25 percent of any electorate will be unhappy about the results; in this era, it is well north of 40 percent. It’s a bullshit concept and resulted in nothing more than senseless hoo-ha; the cornerstone of political theater. But it was a cash bonanza, so all is forgiven.

And this goofy notion that this is a referendum on any other state’s unions or what will happen in the presidential election this November is as asinine as the arguments two months ago about gas prices.

Atavistic one-trick ponies like Walter Russell Mead, acting the part of a 1930s union buster, surmises in The American Interest that “Scott Walker attacked the American labor movement where it lives.” Yes, like when Jesse Jackson blathers on about racism in New York City instead of in the South where, if he had any balls, he would set up camp. Let’s see this song and dance in Michigan, jack. How about Ohio? This is where the American Labor movement lives and breathes and wields its bloated power. Hacking off health plans for schoolteachers in a cheese state where manufacturing isn’t even on the map does not a national referendum make.

But Mead’s disjointed partisan claptrap did make one salient point beyond providing an excellent sample of his spectacular naiveté, the Democrats and the Left did pick this fight and it was dumb and it was doomed and by all rights of honest battle, they should pay a price. But they won’t.

Maybe Mead and his ilk never heard that all politics is local. The people of Wisconsin, who haven’t cast a majority vote for a Republican since 1984, will vote once again for a Democrat, and what goes on in the rust-belt from Pennsylvania through Ohio into Michigan will depend on each state’s current standing and the strength of each campaign’s ground-level muscle. They are disparate pieces of a larger pie. Ohio — toss-up — Pennsylvania — Democrat — Michigan — an interesting twist of Romney home state versus the successful bailout of the auto industry; so far it appears to be a serious lean towards the president.

Walker barely campaigned. He smartly stood his ground and allowed the special interests of the national party brokers; the ones who shoehorned Romney past nickel-and-dimers like Santorum and Gingrich, to fill in the cracks with cash and manpower. The unions received a few appearances by MSNBC and Bill Clinton but were widely ignored by the Wall Street president not wanting to queer his anywhere from five to nine point lead in the state. The idea that this will alienate the important and powerful union lobby for the Democrats in the fall is fantasy, just like the Religious Right staying home or (gulp!) voting for Barack Obama because Romney has a lengthy record as a social liberal.

The national lessons of the Wisconsin Recall is recall away if you want to get some attention and money, but don’t expect a different result.


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“Death of a Salesman” 2012

Aquarian Weekly 5/23/12 REALITY CHECK

In Praise of Death of a Salesman at the Barrymore Theater

Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am! – Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman – Biff, Act 2, Part 7

In the guise of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the mid-twentieth century victim of urbanization, progress, and the delusions of facile success as image, Willy Loman emerges as the defiant lion of the twenty-first century; not a 99 percenter or a TEA Party activist, but a true believer in the American myth, to the bitter end, as bitter as the gorgeous solemnity of Arthur Miller’s finest work allows him.

Phillip Seymour HoffmanThe stirring new Broadway staging of Death of a Salesman at the Barrymore Theater is as good as live theater gets, with an intense cast of emotionally charged players straining with each scene to match Hoffman’s mesmerizing shifts in and out of Loman’s manic mood swings, his bi-polar hallucinations, and long, disturbing pauses that leave the room bereft of oxygen again and again. Hoffman polimorphically manifests jazz great, Miles Davis’ immortal line about the emotion of all music being found in the silences, the notes not played as pertinent as the ones heard.

Hoffman is a ferociously broken wing of the post-war affluence of American spirit, as Loman is written and has been played for more than half a century and on Broadway four different times during parts of six decades, but he is never defeated, roused like a schlep Lazarus or as the whispering voices in a foxhole near the end of a battle the doomed cannot win but cannot yet admit they will never exit alive. Miller’s aim for his timeless tragic anti-hero was to lull audiences into sympathy before the crushing denouement when the truth of the man’s illusions destroys his meager legacy, his fractured family, and his barely subsistent pride. Hoffman, while respectful to the historic playwright, manages to turn this well-crafted ruse on its head by tearing open Loman’s fears of irrelevance into a defiant protest, refusing to accept being unloved, unsuccessful and lost in a time and place not of his making.

But it is not Hoffman for whom this play shines brightest, but his co-star, the young and talented Andrew Garfield, in his stage debut as the ever-wandering loser, Biff. Best known, as is Hoffman, for his film work, most recently as Eduardo in The Social Network and soon-to-be the newest Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, Garfield instinctively commands the stage at his most vulnerable and crazed. Opening the play in boxers and a tank-top tee, his taught muscles and ruffled hair depict a yearning for an escape out West, away from the crushing pressures of the city and his childhood expectations. He closes it strangled by the imprisoned business attire he dons against his will to save his father’s life. Garfield physically becomes the myths of the play.

Death of a Salesman is a good as modern tragedy gets and its current revival proves it.

Here at their nadir, Loman and his son are pitted against each other, held together by blood and lies, as both rage against the machine that churns on without them, even when, for a fleeting second years ago, deep in the glory days of fading sunshine, they are on a suicide run together; one ideological, the other quite literally. And here, to his credit, Hoffman is generous with his skills. As in many of his films, he allows others to shine, expanding his role by sharing the spotlight. Whether playing opposite Meryl Streep in Proof or Along Came Polly with Ben Stiller or Magnolia with Tom Cruise or The Savages with Laura Linney, Hoffman duly supports his co-stars and brings the stories to life.

The play’s director, Mike Nichols, whose acrobatic use of symbolism in his 1968 film masterpiece, The Graduate that turned a dime-store novel of alienation into a generational siren, uses light and imagery, music and a constant unnerving movement to portray the banality of the urban dirge as something more than tragedy. In Nichols’ hands this is a story of unrequited redemption, only because it is the insignificant little damages that lead to the unraveling of contentment in modern times, or as poet Charles Bukowski once mused, it is the broken shoelaces and not massive trauma that drives a man to madness.

Nichols, who has never made a film nearing the perfection of The Graduate, has nevertheless proven his mastery for visual metaphors, as his Death of Salesman brims with one hammering reminder after another that the worth of a man’s existence in a country that had paved over most of its frontier by 1949 is ever more ambiguous. Instead, he is replaced by industry and the automobile, technology, commerce and war. Thus, all the talk about open spaces, wilderness treasures, high-rise executive mastery and daring individualism is cast inside a claustrophobic set design – dreary catacombs from the tiny front porch to the cramped kitchen, the shoebox bedrooms set below tenement windows closing in all around.

But Death of a Salesman is not a political or social treatise; it is a play about lies – domestic, familial, professional and internal; all of the rationalizations and petty misdirection that salves the ticking clocks of our lives. And no one affiliated with this latest run of an American masterpiece, from small walk-ons through the four major players, is unaware of this. There is a reverence for the greatness of the work, but also a bold expanse of its most cherished moments.

Death of a Salesman is a good as modern tragedy gets and its current revival proves it.

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The Art of Politics vs. The Act of Liberty

Aquarian Weekly 5/16/12 REALITY CHECK

WELCOME TO THE FUNHOUSE The Art of Politics vs. The Act of Liberty


The president of the United States agrees with the Bill of Rights. This is a novel concept, like when a kid begins to understand the alphabet as not merely being the lyrics to a cute song to memorize or a series of strange symbols that form different sounds but pieces of a larger linguistic puzzle. I guess if Barack Obama, a constitutional law professor, has “evolved” into this realm of sound legal reasoning after a half century on this planet, a Harvard education, and three years as leader of the free world, we should shout hosannas to the highest mountain or decry him as a heretic and whatever “war on…” has re-entered the vox populi.

Not here, bub.

Gay MarriageHere we’re not fond of latecomers to the obvious. Detractors, and there are many, to this thinking claim that it is about time a politician in some form of power base utter these sentiments. Sure. Baby steps. First there’s “Will & Grace”, the vice president on Meet The Press, then some non-denial denials, spin doctoring, sample polling, and voila! common sense reasoning of civil rights and the liberties purportedly granted to American citizens by the United States Constitution!


I feel like cracking a beer and saluting this great nation. Oh, yes, the enlightened have triumphed again over the darkness of ignorance and we’ll forge ahead, as we have done time and again for nearly 240 years of blessed freedom!

Right, and George W. Bush was going to enact an amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2004 if you elected him again. You did. And you know how many times this was mentioned after January of 2005?

Anyone? Bueller?

Zero times. Yes. Not a wit. Not even a ‘looking into it” or “under advisement”. Captain Shoo-In was as successful at that as winning wars and keeping us out of Chinese debt.

This Obama “coming to religion” (pun duly intended) on this issue of same-sex marriage and the law protecting the rights of the citizenry of our humble republic reeks of Woodrow Wilson promising the women’s vote to the suffrage movement during his desperate run for re-election in 1916 and then ignoring it and the suffragettes for three long years before being brow-beaten by congress to ratify the 19th Amendment, allowing, finally, embarrassingly, pathetically, women to vote.

And Wilson is what passed for “progressive” at the turn of the American Century. This is akin to calling Adam Sandler a thespian.

In election years presidents will say all kinds of things for different reasons. Lincoln’s re-election centered on relocating freed blacks to Caribbean colonies in Belize and had his head remained bullet free maybe the Great Emancipator would be now known as The Great Evictor or maybe it was just off-the-cuff campaign-speak. I am sure, in a bizarre confluence of circumstance and social interaction, that the 50 year-old Obama, a man from my generation, a man who had directed the course of his life to the intricacies of constitutional law would suddenly arrive at this conclusion due to the wisdom of his barely teenage daughters and the loving example of their friends’ same-sex parents. But for the sake of intellectual safety, I’m going to lean on the side of dicey.

This is our embarrassment now, my generation and our flip-flop president, all enlightened, like coming to the eventual conclusion that sucking smoke into the lungs would somehow be harmful or feeding piles of processed fast food into our kids wouldn’t make us grotesquely obese.

But we’ve been on this for well over ten years now and admittedly it was hard to imagine any really high-level player in American politics saying such a thing and not being doomed for it. And Obama may still be, but the electoral maps says otherwise, and one wonders if he has the gall to dive into a social battle with what looks to be a lesser but still Republican-controlled congress on a fringe social issue. But one thing is certain, if this is how the president is thinking and he intends to govern this way, if re-elected (again, still both of these are of rather dicey propositions) then it will be in his Supreme Court appointments that may ultimately determine what should have, and technically already is, determined: The denial of basic rights to any citizen is not only un-American (an ideological almost spiritual slice of poppycock), it is patently illegal under our most sacred tenet, the Constitution.

Let’s face it; Obama hedged his bet by immediately pointing out this was a state’s rights issue, which brings us back to wondering what the hell all that constitutional law learnin’ was for?

The yin-yang of all this controversial fallout is that the Republicans, more directly; their candidate for the highest office, Mitt Romney must take the other side, garnering the all-important religious-fanatic/bigot-centric vote. Romney, on record during four different campaigns as being not only for same-sex marriage but vowing to champion it, has gone the Santorum route on this, as he must. This is his only shot in swing states not named Florida. The base will love it, the FOXNEWS geeks and Rush Limbaugh and whatever other Right Wing dog and pony act is out there protecting us from ourselves.

But what of the independent vote? What of the religious liberals, or those who somehow have innocently mistaken tradition for law or morals for liberty, the foxes that were allowed a prime spot in the henhouse during Morning in America when The Gipper unleashed the primordial slime of Ed Meese to run roughshod over pornography and music and drugs and artistic dissonance. It’s too late to expunge these nuts; they are more powerful than six Black Panther parties and five KKK resurgences. These are the carping knuckle-draggers that have interpreted a nation of laws and personal liberty as a pox on Israelite Bible fantasies. They are the ones who mistake the distinction of a homosexual citizen as a convenient substitute for citizen the way their predecessors mistook the distinction of women as an excuse to deny citizen rights or the distinction of African Americans first from human and then citizen. They’re act is as old as the parchment they besmirch.

This is our embarrassment now, my generation and our flip-flop president, all enlightened, like coming to the eventual conclusion that sucking smoke into the lungs would somehow be harmful or feeding piles of processed fast food into our kids wouldn’t make us grotesquely obese.

The whole thing is another sickening reminder of how far we are from thorny concepts like freedom and liberty and all those flag-waving, ribbon-tying shenanigans that have put us on goof-alert for my entire time sucking air on this spinning sphere. We talk a good game but are paralyzed for long stretches when the going gets tough. That fact that the president of the United State uttering the idea of upholding the Bill of Rights for a segment of our fellow taxpayers is news is all you need to know about how utterly ridiculous a declaration of We The People really can be when ignored.


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Observations of a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer


Aquarian Weekly 5/9/12

Observations of a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer

Hello, my name is James Campion and I am a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That’s right. Me. Officially voted in with The Aquarian Weekly, America’s longest running music newspaper. Yes, siree. Right in there with Keith Richards, Elvis Presley and Alan Freed is jc from the Bronx, NYC.

Suck it, Lindsey Buckingham.

According to Sara Haber of The Syndicate, “With over 40 years of publishing, every issue of The Aquarian Weekly will be available at the Rock and Rolls Hall of Fame’s Library and Archives, which the company hopes to collect, preserve, and provide access to students, educators, journalists and the general public to broaden awareness and understanding of rock and roll, its roots, and its impact on our society.”

That means the entire volume of vile, radical, spastic nonsense that has emanated from the Reality Check News & Information Desk from August of 1997 to these very words (these ones too) are available in the great shrine to The Beatles, The Who, Bob Dylan, and some of the other guys.

Rock and Roll Hall of FameAlso words like “moronically feckless”, which appeared in this space on 10/6/10 to describe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, will be available to peruse. And while visiting there, we hope you also see: “And let’s be honest, the entire concept of having a shrine or snobbish observance of rock & roll is antithetical to everything the damn art form stands for in the first place, and second, and most disturbing, is it confirms what purist caretaker, Lester Bangs predicted and oft-times celebrated as its demise propagated by the over-intellectualizing arrogance of the ‘rock critic elite’.”

Ah, yes. It was so long ago, I could hardly remember conjuring it, much less typing it out and sending it to press. I was obviously filled with the kind of hate and rage only my sixth gin & tonic rouses. I was not thinking clearly, quite obviously panicked from lack of sleep and a crushing deadline. I have written far worse things about people and institutions and have been awarded handsomely for it. It’s all part of the magic of “weekly music content and social issues for all its readers” that Ms. Haber rightly opines.

Eat shit, Donovan.

And so, as a card-carrying member of the Hall, I can now visit Cleveland, if I lose a bet, and saunter through the doors of the glassed museum and wave my hand blithely at the dead-eyed matron at the front desk asking me for an entrance fee and puff; “Dear madam, I am an honored member here. I shan’t be paying for anything, in fact, I expect when I enter there be a long, red carpet for me and these homeless people I met four minutes ago; you know, a plus-three scenario for museum dignitaries.”

And to think, I’ve been missing my many trips to Bank of America during the bailout demanding to see the ledgers and asking them to turn off a few of the lights to keep the monthly billing down. I was owner, after all.

But this is much, much better.

Blow me, Metallica.

I suppose congratulations are in order for this paper, mainly for printing every half-baked, off-the-wall, borderline dangerous thing that’s come out of my head these past fifteen years (some kind of Aquarian columnist record, according to one of the many editors for whom this space has toiled).

I suppose congratulations are in order for this paper, mainly for printing every half-baked, off-the-wall, borderline dangerous thing that’s come out of my head these past fifteen years (some kind of Aquarian columnist record, according to one of the many editors for whom this space has toiled). But mostly for being a damned fine, unflinching and irascible example of underground press this nation has known. The Aquarian Weekly is one of the few independently owned newspapers left. No corporate overlords to skew the measure; stronger, as Jim Morrison once sang, than dirt.

I was proud to be a part of the wonderfully laid out tribute issue last week; I suppose that 9/11 cover of my horrible prediction in 1998 will follow me to the grave. Of course I had to put it in my second book, so there you go.

Plans are already being drawn up for the evening of the induction ceremony over at the Waldorf or some other swanky New York dump. A quick word with my esteemed editor and chief, J.J. Koczan has set in motion several irritating maneuvers that involve rotten fruit, stink bombs and a FUCK JANN WENNER tee shirt.

I expect, nay insist on being the first inductee ejected from a Hall of Fame, beating O.J. Simpson by a long shot.

Koczan warns that security is tight at these things, “lest anyone should actually get a close-up look at the dudes from Def Leppard.” Ouch. I never had problems with those guys, but then I never had to cover them. I found dealing with the assholes representing Radiohead to be a far fouler assignment.

It’s important to point out to many of the readers of this space online or within my mailing list that I have produced many a music-related story of The Aquarian over the years. It’s not all anti-social quasi-political rants. And what kind of tribute would this be if I didn’t properly thank this paper for giving me the opportunity to suggest and produce several cover pieces, including features on Ralph Nader, Alice Cooper, Lucinda Williams, Counting Crows, Tori Amos and John Waters, to name just a few.

Over the years, I got to spend quality time and in some cases befriend several heroes and artists I admire greatly, including Adam Duritz, Paul Stanley, Ani DiFranco, and one the best and dearest friends I have, Dan Bern. I got to hang with Prince and Walt Clyde Frazier at press junkets. I know Clyde wasn’t a rock star, but he dressed like one. I published two volumes of my work here and added Parker Posey and Rage Against The Machine to my enemies list.

But enough about this publication; it’s time for me to ring up the Hall of Fame and get me some swag.

Spin on that, Abba.

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GOP Lockdown 2012

Aquarian Weekly 5/2/12 REALITY CHECK

GOP LOCKDOWN Republican Establishment Begins to Clean House

Reince Priebus is on the wagon. The RNC chairman’s days of drunken violence and crude behavior are behind him. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and the faux conservative uprising of 2010 has been duly defeated. The TEA Party is a memory and so is all of the ugliness of Paul Ryan and debt ceiling debates. Revolution and upheaval has been replaced with spin-with-the-wind business lingo; the framing of national debate best figured by pinpoint polling results. This is about quiet opposition and bland rhetoric; gone will be the religious pronouncements, social reconstruction or fatalistic demagoguery. Show time, folks, is over. The return of Rockefeller Republicanism is back.

Mitt RomneyMitt Romney’s Machine has crushed the soul of Conservative politics, strategically engineered by Priebus and his party cronies to manipulate the general electorate come fall. It has been a steady slog, interrupted slightly by messy voting and nose-holding support from those who naively misread the 2010 mid-term elections as some kind of binding grass roots anti-government sentiment, the way the Left was sure the 2008 elections put the kibosh on the prior eight years of geo-political, big government overreach.

The Republican Party is not in the business of changing or challenging or creating serious opposition to the status quo. It wants a healthy slice of the status quo and its titular representative, the head of its aims, is Willard Mitt Romney, a 65 year-old moderate ex-governor and mediocre corporate raider with comportment from central casting and an amazing ability to live not only above the fray of most pressing national issues, but outside any true ideology. He is a political automaton created to be the face and breadth of a political party – easily molded and coachable. His debate performances, although mildly uneven and malleable, against fairly ferocious debaters in the primary season was testament to his ability to shift and parry. His post-primary speeches, strikingly general election orientated, rang the bells Republican leaders needed rung; “You don’t like this, neither do I, and I’ll stop it.” No details, no plans, no direction, but up.

Anyone who thinks this horribly weak model is not a good national election candidate is working on a short memory. Bill Clinton comes to mind, a centrist candidate with a fairly moderate gubernatorial record, bobbing and weaving his way through primary gaffs and faulty rhetoric. Of course, Romney is no Clinton in the sense that his charms fall more on the muted side, if there are charms at all, but this is the perfect anecdote if you are going against the Rock Star President, Joe Cool; who is well liked to the tune of over 70 percent, despite nearly the same number believing he and his policies stink to high heaven; an interesting balancing act that only Ronald Regan was able to pull off in 1984.

The Republican establishment might not have enthusiasm, glitter and pizzazz on its side, but it knows that this year that’s bullshit. Glitter and pizzazz straddled the party with Sarah Palin, one of the most damaging characters that hit the national stage in over half a century; a truly vacuous polarizing gasbag, who while exciting the base scared the living shit out of the crucial Independent vote and handed vital states like North Carolina, a Republican stronghold, over to Barack Obama.

This time the polls, although hardly a trustworthy measuring stick in the past two presidential election cycles, have been steady for months. Even with the complete obliteration of the Hispanic vote and a major shift among women voters, the Independent stronghold for Obama in 2008 has continued to wane without halt. Depending on the poll more Right Wing pollsters decide the Independent vote comes in at 45-37 in favor of Romney, but more balanced have it at 47-45, which is spot-on for a fairly non-threatening economic-centric (bland and steady) candidate to keep, if there are no Sarah Palin screw-ups.

Mitt Romney’s Machine has crushed the soul of Conservative politics, strategically engineered by Priebus and his party cronies to manipulate the general electorate come fall.

But social, gender and independent voting blocks aside, this is not technically a national election (ask Al Gore), but a gathering of electoral votes throughout 50 diverse states of varying districts, social constructs and economic realities. Think, for instance of Michigan, a state for which Romney and the Republicans have rightfully determined is a goner, whether its candidate publicly decried its subtenant business existence during the auto bailouts or not. But Pennsylvania, a Democratic bedrock for decades, is in play. The party had figured as far back as January during Priebus’ booze-addled hiatus, that Santorum was going to follow-up his 2006 senate re-election bid trouncing by failing to win his home state, a state he would likely cough up in November. If Romney is the candidate the party thinks it has bargained for, Pennsylvania and even Ohio could be taken.

This is the only way Romney can win. While national sentiment and modest Independent support is a given, the electoral map is not friendly territory, and only a non-factor candidate can change that.

Right now Republicans poll miserably in the swing states, as well as many of the states not guaranteed to the president, meaning if the economy does not improve and/or unemployment doesn’t dip into the mid-sevens, a scarecrow with enough money could put dents into this reality. This was never going to happen with Santorum or Gingrich or the bevy of misfits before them. According to Republican thinking, this time around cold strategy, not passion wins the day. Passion was 2008, and what Republicans want is to forget that year and the economic collapse its party helped to create and the resultant big-government stimulus that ultimately averted it.

What in late 2007 this space described as a detriment could well be a winning element in 2012:

“Watch Romney speak some time. Really watch him. The eyes dart spastically, the brow furrows, his speech patterns falter and then queer altogether. He often looks like the boy who has just realized he’s lost in a department store; that eerily suspended moment of panic-clarity before the freak-out. Romney has that look right now as he blurts out the phrase “moral convictions” every thirty seconds to keep from convulsing. I half expect a reptile to explode from his rib cage at any moment.” – MITT ROMNEY – DON’T ASK – DON’T TELL – Issue: 12/12/07

This was our coverage of a speech Romney delivered trying to separate his Mormon faith from that of his legitimacy for the presidency, the kind of speech that makes religious stalwarts like Santorum ill, but makes strategic sense. It was something Romney and his advisers felt he had to do in 2007, but now rings as hollow as Romney himself. This is economic times, not a time for “moral convictions” to which Barack Obama wins in almost any poll conducted.

It is the year of the tortoise and the hare, in which the Republicans will paint the president as a celebrity good-guy whose charisma has failed to unite, galvanize and “change” this nation or more importantly this government over his first term. That, and only that, and whatever unforeseen happenstance may happen this summer, will give the Republicans a chance to do what five years ago seemed like a goofy pipedream, control the two main branches of the government again, as it did in 2000, when the nation had a surplus and thought itself impervious to international attack.

In other words, the salad days for Republicanism, before the Bush/Rove/Cheney people hijacked it with so-called anti-Republican nation building and non-funded government bloating.

A state-by-state, statistical strategy devoid of purpose or direction, beyond winning the White House, will transform Mitt Romney’s weakness into strength.


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The Buffett Rule?

Aquarian Weekly 4/25/12 REALITY CHECK


It’s national campaign time and the Democrats have joined the crazy. Six months of idiocy from the Republicans was apparently enough. Check that; to understand what is going on in congress with what is officially coined the Paying a Fair Share Act is merely the volley returned for the TEA Party induced mayhem that stalled Capitol Hill during last year’s Debt Ceiling Debate. Congress has now become the land of vacant bills thrown into the chamber to make grandiose ideological statements with a political slant; or, as they like to say on K STREET, “business as usual”.

The Paying a Fair Share Act has as much teeth as the legislative branch of the federal government not paying its bills, to which it should mean none. But what it does accomplish, although eventually backfired on Republicans – unless there are still some who hang their hat on calling this the “Lowered Credit Rating President” – is put the 99 percenters (the latest street-cred protest, ala the TEA Party) in the conversation and fan the flames of class warfare and populism that is polling through the roof these days.

It’s a wise move from a defensive party hoping to maintain the executive branch in a crawling economic recovery and escalating gas prices, but it’s the epitome of farce; “a light, humorous play in which the plot depends upon a skillfully exploited situation rather than upon the development of character”. Substitute “plot” with “public discourse” and “character” with “law” and you got yourself a free campaign ad.

The Paying a Fair Share Act is pure showbiz. Its premise is ineffectual at best and at worst, infantile. You know, like selling the idea that sending your kids to be maimed killing Iraqis will keep you safe. It’s the grand ruse you must swallow to be part of an ostensibly free society wherein freedom is merely doled out incrementally through a series of pacifications. We agree only with this systemic patronization because, really, what’s our choice?

The origin of the Paying a Fair Share Act is of course the famed Buffett Rule, dubbed by Barack Obama in 2011 after billionaire Warren Buffett’s claim that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. This led to Senate minority leader, Harry Reid’s proposal of a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires. This predictably went nowhere with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and wasn’t even broached in the president’s 2013 budget proposal, but suddenly with the Rick Santorum follies shut down for the season, here comes the big guns.

Of course, big guns are never needed when shooting fish in a barrel, as it is when the rich are put on trial. It’s the oldest scam on the books. French Revolution, Russian Revolution, Cuban Revolution, hell you can make a solid case for the American Revolution propping the wealth class up as a symbol of a country’s ills. You could even rightfully argue that in all those cases the wealth class was indeed public enemy numero uno, but what does that do for the proletariat but to be force-fed into another cauldron of steaming bullshit to be exploited by the fallout?

The Paying a Fair Share Act is pure showbiz. Its premise is ineffectual at best and at worst, infantile. You know, like selling the idea that sending your kids to be maimed killing Iraqis will keep you safe.

This is no place to start bringing up capital gains taxes and debt reduction and redistribution of wealth. Let the economists and pseudo pundits frame their own guesswork there. The problems with both the Buffett Rule and the Paying a Fair Share Act can be found in its choice of terms; “paying” and “fair” and “share” and “rule”. None of these apply to the United States of America, no matter how many countries we bomb or benefits we bestow. This was not a country founded on “fair” in any way shape or form. It is also a country loath to “share”. In fact, there are still paid employees of the state who yammer on ceaselessly about the veiled threat of socialism the minute they hear the words fairness and sharing. This is why in its humblest way this is the greatest nation in modern civilization. It reflects the barest truth about life in general: It is unfair and sharing is about as natural a human trait as flying. And “paying”? Who the hell likes paying for anything; monetarily, emotionally, personally, or otherwise? And nobody, but nobody, beyond the truly religious (.00001 percent) digs a fucking “rule”.

This space spent months last year warning Republicans that harping on the national debt was bad mojo which would come back to claim its pound of flesh, and boy has it ever. Republican Patron Saint, Ronald Reagan once proclaimed that “deficits don’t matter” and he did so because his main goal was to cut taxes and bloat military spending, the former of which he failed miserably to achieve having raised taxes some seven different times during his two-term presidency, as the latter he joyfully scored again and again. This apparently is still the Republican goal, which is something akin to toasting sobriety. Without raising taxes and cutting spending the national debt will soar, something the Bush 43 presidency blatantly illustrated, and precisely why 60 percent of Americans are keen on having the rich foot the bill.

Here’s the thing; why don’t all the wealthiest assholes that want to pay down the debt pool their money and do it. No rules. No fairness. No sharing. No new laws. Just get together a handful of billionaires, pro jocks, rock stars, computer geeks, reality TV jack-offs, and slip some checks to the Chinese. Find that dipshit G.W. Bush and his daddy and pull some of his own patriotic bullshit and guilt him into some funds. The Clintons are worth millions. Let’s pony up, Billary.

The biggest problem with the Buffett Rule and The Paying a Fair Share Act is that it forces the hand of those with coffers to legally hand it over. Why not appeal to their better angels, or failing that (since “better angels” usually does not apply to hiding laundered money in the Cayman Islands) boycott their interests. Now we’re talking some real grassroots, ugly, sweaty unfair misrule of democracy.

Until then, count this as the first salvo to pit popular opinion against Mitt Romney, who already has a steep hill to climb pivoting on some goofy anti-Latino and anti-women shit he had to spout to jettison the pesky Santorum that has cost him dearly. This is why you already hear him desperately pissing on the media. Maybe Romney forgot, the key to democracy is that “unfair” applies to everyone.

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