OHIO CALLING

Aquarian Weekly
8/16/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
OHIO CALLING
Another Fascist Republican Defeat to Democracy & the Call of Women’s Productive Rights Nationwide

We’re not going to stop until Republicanism is dead. Period. And we’re going to use the tool of women’s reproductive rights to do it, because so far, the not-so-silent majority is on an unprecedented winning streak to send the fascists a message nationwide. On August 8 a record turnout of highly motivated voters rejected a scam by a super-majority of Republicans in Ohio to make it harder for the will of the people to change their state constitution. This cheap and losing tactic was lashed together haphazardly for the fascists to stop the codifying of women’s reproductive rights that they robbed from them. And so, Ohio joins Kansas, Michigan, Kentucky, Vermont, California, and a growing number of states to stamp out the illegal virus heaped upon the U.S. after the ignominiously unconstitutional striking down of Roe v. Wade by a corrupt Supreme Court last summer. And it is not going to stop.

It was a nice try by the fascists to whip up a special election referendum to raise the threshold for amending the state constitution from a majority to sixty percent. After all, fifty-seven percent of its citizenry want legal and safe access to abortion and that issue is on the ballot this November. This is thanks to a petition that doubled the number (700K) needed to get it there. Republicans had to stop it, because these hypocrites who and claim that the striking down of Roe v Wade lets states decide. But they don’t want states to decide, because when they do their anti-woman policies go bye-bye. And so, they play games. And they lost this game, and will keep losing these games until they either give up, come to the table on a national referendum to return women the rights they’ve had for half a century, or die on that hill.

I would take either… but prefer both.

The assumption by the Republicans who cooked up the idea of taking the voter’s voice from them was that not enough of them would notice – low turnout in early summer. And so, they changed the rules (even though this same body of “legislators” banned special August elections just last year) and hoped to crush the democratic process.

But democracy went all democracy on them.

Democrats, Independents, and a surprisingly considerable number of Republicans from districts Donald Trump won by ten to fifteen points voted to strike down this “Issue 1” scam, in some cases by forty points. The ballot-box slaughter was a vehement rebuke of fascist tactics. And in the fall, they will lose again.

This November they will finish the job and notch another victory for women’s rights and put fascism on notice once again.

By the way, as a matter of record and sweet revenge, the final tally was 57-percent voting “no” on Issue 1, the exact polling number that want legal abortion codified into their constitution.

And if August 8 and red-state Ohio standing up for women’s reproductive rights is any indication, the momentum and furor over the disastrous Supreme Court Dobbs decision has not eased. If anything, it has gained fire. Just a few months ago Wisconsin, a severe 50/50 battleground state, elected a liberal judge, flipping the court for the first time in fifteen years to stop the draconian anti-women laws sanctioned by state Republicans. This all-but guarantees a lawsuit against their unconstitutional shenanigans will be successful and as a bonus will spark a long-overdue redistricting to disallow fascist Republican gerrymandering, which is one of the severest in the nation.

You see, Republicans, who are in the minority on almost every issue; gun violence, climate change, “Wokism,” LGBTQ rights, and abortion, among many others, have only been competitive because of heavy gerrymandering. They have no national voice – having lost the raw majority vote in every presidential election except one (2004) – for the past thirty-five years, and with Mr. Soon-to-be- Convicted at the top of their ballot, this will stumble closer to half a century. They must stop you from voting, otherwise they don’t exist. Most Republicans are in their 70s and 80s and the new flock of teen-to-thirty voters (Gen Z) are progressive, politically aware, and apparently voting in record numbers. The University of Ohio students had a 95-percent attendance rate in this August 8 vote.

If I was stupid enough to cling to the Republican party at this juncture, I’d cheat too.

But this latest attempt to do so was sent packing in a red state by a large margin in the middle of summer.

This November they will finish the job and notch another victory for women’s rights and put fascism on notice once again.

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JAIME ROYAL “ROBBIE” ROBERTSON – 1943 – 2023

Aquarian Weekly
8/10/23
 
Feature
 

James Campion
 
 
JAIME ROYAL “ROBBIE” ROBERTSON – 1943 – 2023

Robbie Robertson was a lightning rod in the tempest of rock’s centrifuge, a 1960s poet noir with an anachronistic streak that drove him to capture the flipside of his manic life in song. His mouthpiece, his collaborative framework, his scuffle-brothers-forever was the Band. For one summer in 1968 they imploded the entire psychedelic merry prankster tune-in-drop-out Sgt. Pet Sounds zeitgeist with ancient music from the woods. Reverberations in Big Pink – basement booze noodling during Bob Dylan’s self-banishment from hipsville, as he morphed into a country bumpkin troubadour. From that spark came his own songs that twisted a generation and struck a chord of Americana emanating from this otherwise reserved Canadian songsmith and his boys on the prayer-wing.

Robertson was a guitar player first. He played it as if it might leap from his hands and never return. A prodigy that was exploited as a teenager and blossomed as a songwriter, he never lost this obsession that bordered on dangerous. Watching the seminal rock and roll film of all time again recently, as I introduced my twenty-year-old uber-talented singer-songwriter niece, Sydney Leigh to The Last Waltz, I am/was/always will be mesmerized by his trenchant fury on the instrument shining within his band’s framework – boogie-woogie to plantation blues and twangy country to folk-rock. The Band, upon Robertson’s request, worked in service of song, all of which he composed with their able assistance. You could see it when they played – all looks and listening and eye contact and compromise.

All of it began and wrapped up in the circle of his guitar.

When you think of Robertson, darkly handsome with Jewish-Native American blood, he is withdrawn and hyper-focused, and you think of those songs, and their borderline atavistic romanticism about the deep South (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”), the epic struggle of the nineteenth century farmer (“King Harvest [Has Surely Come]”), down-on-their luck carnies (“Life is a Carnaval”), or the Biblical wanderers of arguably his best and definitely his most known composition, “The Weight.” Character-driven morality tales of lost souls emersed in cheap temptations of the demimonde.

He learned about these vagabonds and charlatans, sad sacks and high rollers from the Band’s only American; a pistol-amped Arkansan drummer and the ensemble’s first boss, Levon Helm, who had a voice awash in moonshine molasses and lent a languid bordello backbeat to the affair. But he mastered the storytelling vehicle from Dylan when the Band first agreed to back his mercurial nether ride on the infamous mid-60s “electric tours” of Britain and the U.S., with all the booing and catcalls and death threats and the brutal fury pouring from those performances.

You want to know about Robbie Robertson musically, you listen to the most famous of all bootlegs, The Great White Wonder – released in 2017 as The Royal Albert Hall Concert and his work with Dylan in 1966 during those tours. Especially “Like a Rolling Stone,” which at once made my wife tear-up and boiled something in me that is difficult to describe as mere anger, closer to a crushing disappointment in humanity and a rare empathy for the then spiteful and speed-addled Dylan. And then go find the clip of Robertson’s dueling guitar solos in The Last Waltz with Eric Clapton, which for my money is won by Robbie on pure grit and force. It is well documented that Clapton not only dreamed of one-day joining the Band but completely restructured his musical journey and professional career on their oeuvre.

He defined the last pathway to rock and roll.

A road dog from his teen years, most infamously as part of the legendary Hawks that backed a feral lunatic named Ronnie Hawkins, who took performance to alarming levels of spastic eruptions, earned Robertson lead-guitar duties and later as the right-hand of Levon Helm, who took the name and the band and moved it out of Canada and into the heartland. And that is precisely why the Band became a touring machine, something Robertson at times barely endured and oft abhorred. Suffering from severe panic attacks – one in which a hypnotist had to be called in to get him to the stage – was well depicted in perhaps the best song written about the pangs of a traveling performer, “Stage Fright.”

The revisionist history of the Band and Robertson’s sense of entitlement as its sole songwriter and de facto leader in documentaries and his memoir has taken some of his self-aggrandized autonomy away. Of course, in that “basement” – although it was more a downstairs garage space – in Saugerties, NY, the five members, all brilliant musicians and arguably (and I argue) the best Caucasian singing rock group ever, was deep collaboration. But one thing that never changed was Robertson’s retreat from the darkness that enveloped its sheepishly lovable bass player, Rick Danko and his near-death drug-fueled car wrecks, or Helm’s descent into heroin fogs, or the gin-drenched peril of multi-instrumentalist, Richard Manuel, who’s voice sounded as achingly fragile as the man who eventually committed suicide by hanging.

No teetotaler, Robertson, an only child who understood the duality of independent solidarity, kept himself centered inside the tumult of his times and his band and remained true to his adoration of the music that moved him as a shy kid steeped in the golden age of rockabilly meets swamp-stomp, a world away from tepid suburbia. His dreams of the mystical Beale Street and its bawdy Black rebels, pool-hall hustlers, and barroom fisticuffs melded seamlessly into his story-songs. He lived vicariously through the voices of these songs, usually sung by others, except for his later solo albums, and always with a mask of truth.

Robertson broke up the Band in 1976 with the Last Waltz concert that his friend Martin Scorsese turned into a visual masterpiece and then the two worked together on several of his films and other projects, including Robertson’s scoring of the upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon about the genocide of the Osage Nation in the early part of the twentieth century. Robertson told everyone the separation was mutual, but the rest of the musicians in the group disagreed and went on touring and making records without him – none of them as good, but that would have been understandable when considering the last few Band records were not as good as their time with Dylan or immediately thereafter. It’s as if they missed the outrageous turmoil of their times, the best marriage of art and chaos.

Later in life, Robertson produced Neil Diamond and played behind Ringo Starr and Carly Simone and James Taylor, and his old sparring partner, Eric Clapton. He played the part of elder statesman for bands like my friends in Counting Crows, tutoring them on recording in houses not studios, and helping to stage many of the early Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies. But his legacy was created in those rooms with those musicians.

Together they formed the final bridge between the jump-jive-swing / blue grass / downhome blues and the pop / rock / soul that sounds today as fresh as it did when it was played in that basement. They ushered in the singer-songwriter, country-rock fusion of the 1970s that still reverberates in clubs and bars in kids with mandolins and fiddles and washboards and drums and hearts filled with song.

Robbie Robertson played guitar.

He wrote songs.

He defined the last pathway to rock and roll.

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MAGA CARNAGE

Aquarian Weekly
8/9/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
MAGA CARNAGE
The Final Perp Walk of Donald J. Trump

There was only one way for the Donald J. Trump experiment in governance to end: Facing a series of felony charges for defrauding citizens and attempting to subvert democracy. He promised “American Carnage” during his inauguration speech in January of 2016 and brought it to bear four years later on January 6, 2021. And now he is charged with the crimes he very publicly and merrily committed. A businessman who knew nothing about how the government worked, who was a Democrat all his life and decided to use the Republican Party as a marketing tool and then the United States as Trump Enterprises predictably descends into an indictment on four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy against rights. 

Yeah, it had to end like this.

January 6 was the darkest day in American electoral and modern presidential history, and what the Department of Justice has unfurled in a forty-five-page document are the illegal machinations of a madman, who just could not admit he lost – against brand and fragile “daddy love me” psychology – and chose to remain in power as a dictator, above the law, above the country, above the sphere of logic and decorum.

But January 6 was merely the culmination of two of the most horridly bizarre months following Trump’s loss in the 2020 election – 63 weirdly worded and strangely filed and ultimately defeated or tossed lawsuits, five state recounts, some of which awarded Biden more votes, and press conferences by crazy lawyer types.  But it didn’t have to end like this. Or at least for functioning humans. One of those types could have walked away once the wacky theories were debunked and all the faux outrage unfounded. You give it a shot, then you take your orange tan and the Bozo coif and go home. 

But, nah, it had to end in carnage. 

Not since George Washington abdicated a power everyone in his employ thought he should maintain to walk back to Mount Vernon, Virginia in March of 1797 with the peaceful transfer of power has any American president failed to comply with the Constitution’s framework. Until Donald Trump.

Well, you put a man in office whose name is plastered over everything he owns like some kind of twisted Liberace meets Al Capone, then it has to come to this. Trump could have gone bye-bye and gotten away with dozens of egregious malfeasances to out-right crimes during his presidency, but he just could not manage to negotiate the human-function apparatus. He had to make up some story of having been bested by cheating, because he could never lose to Joe Biden fairly. And now that level of ego, hubris, and living in a hermetically sealed lie bubble has come home to roost. The reckoning of the failed experiment of Donald Trump’s American Carnage is nigh.

Whether you like him or not, it had to end like this.

Mr. Frankenstein, your monster is here.

It turns out that the conjured lawsuits and fantasies of hacked or corrupt voting machines in Philly, vote dumps in Detroit, devious deep-state minimum wage vote counters in Atlanta, have consequences. To think, strong-arming state attorneys general and governors (all of them Republican), to “find votes” and make him the winner might end in legal jeopardy. Could you fathom going to sycophantic crazies for ideas like secretly creating false electors in seven states to sneak in Trump votes over legitimate Biden votes landing you in federal court? Strange how begging the vice president to send all the legitimate electors back to their states and anoint him King of America while Mike Pence repeatedly told him the half-baked scheme was unlawful, and Trump mocking him for being “too honest,” concludes in his arrest

And finally, what are the chances inviting an angered and armed insurrectionist mob to the Capitol to fight for their country and use “force” to protect his power on the day of the ratification of an election he lost, putting his vice president on the hot seat by telling his people on the mall “We can fix this if Mike Pence has the courage to do the right thing” and when he refused (doing his constitutional duty, which is largely ceremonial), unleash the hordes on him and nearly 250 years of American law and order could possibly put him a jury-decision away from dying in prison?

Come on, let’s face it, whether you like him or not, it had to end like this. Petulant children, even 74-year-olds, do not comply to what they do not deem acceptable. Losing was never an option for Trump. Instead, he would rather wreck a system he found irritating and disenfranchise your vote and send his white-supremacist-fascist-goobers to smash up the Capitol and injure and kill officers of the law than go away quietly. It’s his thing. The Tao of Trump: Everything he touches dies.

He has to do it. 

Cows moo. Birds chirp. Dogs bark. Trump Trumps.

And so…

He’s guilty.

Fuck the trial. Let’s use the Trump method of jurisprudence like he did with the Central Park Five, when he took out a full-page ad in the NY Times calling them scum and how they should be executed before given a day in court. I agree with that particular Trump’s method to handle this version of Trump. He is scum and he is guilty. 

But no matter what Trump you use to cut it, it had to end this way.

MAGA Carnage.

Don’t worry, though, the Republicans have a sequel.

Trump 2024 – Stay of Jail on Your Money and Votes!

And that will very much end like this one.

It just has to.

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SINEAD MARIE BERNADETTE O’CONNOR (SHUHADA SADAQAT) 1966 – 2023

Aquarian Weekly
7/26/23
 
Feature
 
James Campion
 
SINEAD MARIE BERNADETTE O’CONNOR (SHUHADA SADAQAT)
1966 – 2023

Sinéad O’Connor was my hero.

Wait, I can’t leave my wife out of this. Eric D. Moore and I would not have sealed our bond, the one that has lasted twenty-six years, twenty-four in marriage with a gorgeous, strong fifteen-year-old daughter, Scarlet (who briefly could have been named Sinéad) if not for Sinéad O’Connor’s voice, her music and the miniscule freak conclave of which we were and are and will forever be proud members. Had an extra ticket to see her play at the Beacon Theater in NYC. No one gave a shit about Sinéad O’Connor in August of 1997, except, apparently my bride-to-be and yours truly. Two years later “This is to Mother You” from her wonderful 1997 EP, Gospel Oak, the album O’Connor was touring when the two of us went to see her together for what turned out to be our first time alone together and the last time I would ever be alone again, was our wedding song.

Yeah, Sinéad was our hero.

She became mine much earlier. When I needed her – like I needed Warren Zevon when Zevon stepped in – she arrived like a gale force wind, horrifically refreshing.

Haunted by demons from her earliest sentient memories, defiant and reborn with a voice that coursed through your guts, Sinéad O’Connor pushed hard against what she thought was wrong and embraced with maternal aggression what she cherished. She was a holy mess, a furious angelic punk, and when you spoke to her, as I did, you can still hear the tremors of those battles in her throat, the almost whispered Gaelic pulse of words and breath that exploded into a thousand points of light when she sang. It was in her conversation that the spastic duality which fueled her art might be glimpsed.

She put it into the songs, on those albums, and when you saw her on stage – wholly present, like watching a reed dan le déluge – trying so damn hard to be the tough Irish lass but refusing to harden her heart. She needed that tool for the art. But as many of us know, it’s a painfully arduous balancing act. I could hear it in her voice, on stage, on record, over the phone. Sadly, today, she lost her balance.

When I wrote Prince Rogers Nelson’s eulogy for this paper in 2016, I spent a good part of it explaining what his music and times meant to the twenty-something me. Well, Sinéad owned a good deal of the latter part of my twenties into my thirties, from the opening notes of “Nothing Compares 2 U” – a song I adored in 1986 when Prince strangely handed it to one of his fringe bands, the Family instead of recording it himself – flooding out of the speakers of the shitty car I was driving towards dawn. It was revelatory, a shuddering tightrope declaration of pure adrenaline and hurt. Prince, no fan of O’Connor’s, understood the song belonged to her now. He said then, “Sometimes a song doesn’t find a home until it does, and this one has.” Because when she sings, “All the flowers that you planted, mama, in the backyard / All died when you went away,” Prince knew the score.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” went on to be a massive global #1 hit with a video in the how-nuts-can-we-get age that featured only her face. It is the first track on the second side of O’Connor’s second album. I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, one of the finest statements by a woman singer-songwriter ever, and when I was working on a pitch to the editors over at the 33 1/3 series three years ago to write about the record, I pointed out how pertinent it was to the woman’s movement of 90s power pop, rock, and indie expression, from Liz Phair to Ani DiFranco, P.J. Harvey to Alanis Morrisette, and bands like Bikini Kill and Hole.

And there would not have been that album or the Prince cover if not for the death of her mother, Johanna, who had suffered all her life from mental disorder, shoved aside in a patriarchal fascist state that was 1960s Ireland – no contraception or reproductive rights, no legal recourse against “marital rape”, laws against married women working, laws against battered women leaving their husbands, women disallowed from drinking in pubs. Sinéad watched her descend into madness and endured her ghastly mental and physical abuse, forcing her to a nunnery where she found her voice, learned guitar, and escaped to London at sixteen to make her way. When Johanna died it was as if the talons of a great predatory bird had lifted from her eighteen-year-old soul and allowed her once again to breathe and to grieve.

The songs on that album are as arresting as anything that had come from a male artist. Male artists cannot be this vulnerable, as much as they might try. Prince tried, and he wrote a damn fine song, arguably his best ballad, but it took Sinéad to see it was not a torch song, but a paean to past regret and the desperate need for a wayward kid to belong. Prince later admitted it was as much about his complicated relationship with his mother and the insular emotional cocoon he’d erected to survive a peripatetic childhood than a woman he was pining for.

Watch the video again. Sinéad begins to cry when she sings that line about flowers in her mother’s garden dying. The honesty of it is terrifying. In her infinite duality, Sinéad O’Connor sang “Nothing Compares 2 U” as she sang her own sad, pure, fierce songs, tenderly but so fucking strong.

This is what you got from Sinéad O’Connor from the very beginning to the bitter end. The balance was remarkable but unsustainable.

This is the same woman who refused to allow New Jersey’s Garden State Arts Center (now PNC Center) to play the national anthem before her show. I was there that night. We did not hear about this so-called fracas until the next day. What concert have you ever been to that played the national anthem? Anthems are stringent jingoism. Her music is infinite, borderless. O’Connor took the stage, bald and thin, inflamed by the rush of that music and put on a show for the ages, and when we all awoke, she was an instant pariah. Front page news. Outraged politicians. Frank Sinatra threatened to “kick her ass.” And in the swirl of that media frenzy, she proved her point: Violence, vengeance, patriarchal lunacy comes with all the “home of the brave” stuff just like pedophilia and systemic control over women in Northern Ireland came with the Catholic Church. And so, she appeared on Saturday Night Live two years later and ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II, the one that hung on her mother’s wall when she was a child, announcing “Fight the real enemy,” and officially tanked her career.

“I never wanted to be a celebrity, I’m a fucking protest singer,”

Sinéad O’Connor

It was as if she had killed the man. The backlash was brutal, and it came from everywhere. A few days later, she stood on stage and listened to twenty thousand New Yorkers, not KKK Alabamans, boo her mercilessly as she shouted Bob Marley’s “War” – the same furious acapella performance that presaged the torn photo – with unrepentant rage before falling into Kris Kristofferson’s arms. She was to sing at some Boomer celebrity thirtieth anniversary circle-jerk for Bob Dylan, who used to get the same shit from people for singing about the murder of Emmitt Till, a young Black kid massacred for purportedly looking at a white woman. In 1963, when honored at a Bill of Rights Dinner for his contributions to the Civil Rights movement, the twenty-one-year-old Dylan took to the dais and unleashed a drunken diatribe alerting the rich liberals before him to find another “voice of a generation.” He was out of that game. Too dangerous.

Sadly, but predictably, Dylan said nothing of the incident that overshadowed his stupid shindig, much to the consternation of many of his fans, including my friend, professor Tim Riley, who dedicated a chapter in his Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary to the glaring omission and its painful irony. The next week, actor Joe Pesci hosted SNL and ripped up a picture of O’Connor and threatened to “give her such a smack.” She needn’t say anymore.

But enough about that and enough about women speaking their minds against patriarchal madness, racism, pogroms on women’s rights, all of which Sinéad stood against even after she was declared a dead pop star. “I never wanted to be a celebrity, I’m a fucking protest singer,” she told Rolling Stone, when she simultaneously won Artist of the Year and Most Hated Artist in the same issue. It was in O’Connor’s ensuing work that she spoke the loudest – her constant battle with faith, be it Catholicism or Rastafarianism or Islam. She became a priest and a shaman, then changed her name, but she could have been a sixth Marx Brother or the fifth Beatle or submerged into X for all that mattered, because her truest spirit came from that uniquely quivering, impenetrable, irrepressible bottomless throat. And from that machine emerged multitudes; lyrics and melodies bursting with love and peace and heartbreak and independence.

She often sang about her children, she had four, the first one Jake, was born when she was only twenty-one. She was allegedly asked to abort the fetus by her management as her career was about to blow up; who wants to see an unmarried pregnant pop star? This was the same management who previously suggested she wear provocative clothing and do up her hair before she showed up with a shaved head in a dirty tee shirt. She was barely twenty then. Jake is thirty-one now. She lost her third, Shane, a seventeen-year-old troubled kid, haunted like her mother, like her mother’s mother. He hung himself last January. She never recovered. Soon after, she was on suicide watch. She went missing and ended up here in New Jersey last summer. We tried to reach out to her, find her. She came back, but barely. She’d recently popped up on Twitter under a pseudonym, her last tweet to the world was of Shane, “Been living as undead night creature since. He was the love of my life, the lamp of my soul. We were one soul in two halves. He was the only person who ever loved me unconditionally. I am lost in the bardo without him.” Nine days later she was gone.

How delicate the balance.

And so, we are left with the songs and the memories of those incredible performances, and her marching for Black lives, Women’s lives, Irish lives, Human lives. Long after the shaved head and combat boots, long after her front-page stint as punk warrior, demon bitch she kept singing – and all those records are gems – and miraculously kept up the fight. Depression. Fear. Defeat. Resurrection. None of it silenced that astonishing singing voice. To this day, whenever I hear her hit those beatific notes on her stunningly gorgeous ballad. “Three Babies,” the feathered dance of falsetto on the sultry “Jerusalem,” the building sprint of “Thank You for Hearing Me,” the naked passion of “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance,” the gritty harangue of “No Man’s Woman,” the whispered gauntlet in “Petit Poulet,” the lilting grace of “Jealous,” or our wedding song, the sweet, compassionate, agonizingly expressive, “This is To Mother You,” I feel, we feel, as if I am, we are, in there with her.

There is too much to say, and I am shocked I got this out, because the first draft read like a man on the edge of a complete breakdown, but I need to share the last time I spoke directly with Sinéad.

It was 2014 for an AQ Weekly cover story on her last album, I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss. Erin and I had just gotten back from Ireland to celebrate our fifteenth anniversary, as we both share Irish blood, and we spoke about a mural outside Dublin’s Hard Rock Café, which had a stunning painting of her with the inscription: “Sinéad, you were right all along, we were wrong. So sorry.” Sinéad was so moved she stopped for a moment and took a long breath. “It’s very special to me,” she said. “I’d really love to know who did it.” I told her we all did it, and she laughed. I kept that part out of the piece. It was maudlin then, but it is so apt now.

I finally asked her about her disturbing “suicide” song on the album, “8 Good Reasons” in which she sings, “Don’t know if I should quite sing this song/Don’t know if it maybe might be wrong/But then again it maybe might be right/To tell you ‘bout the bullet and the red light.”

“Can you reveal the eight good reasons that are worth sticking around for?” I asked.

Without hesitation, she whispered, “My children’s eyes.”

She lost her balance, that’s all.

She is still my hero.

Our hero.

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BIDENOMICS

Aquarian Weekly
7/12/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
BIDENOMICS
The Dangers of Owning the Wild Beast 

Economics is not a science. It is certainly not a religion. To study it, parse it, analyze it points the way to madness. But owning it is a dangerous game. The Bengal tiger in the brush. Stay in the boat, the man said. And he was right. Because the thing in the dark has fangs and a passionate hunger. Taming it is a recipe for gouging and gnawing of flesh. To think about the results of you in the jungle with God’s perfect killing machine is not for me or you or the poor bastard running the Treasury Department to fathom. Some of this nation’s best and brightest have slunk slack-jawed in defeat from its considerable shadow. Boastful yuppies in power ties end up on the wrong end of a swinging rope. Lives and reputations end in tatters. Weeping the order of the day. Yeah, it’s best to let it be.

I have written very little about economics. There is a reason. I am afraid of it. There is this hoary thought in my head that once I finish this sentence most of the money I have in the bank and whatever ghostly form it takes in the stock market will go the way of the hoola-hoop and rock music. I will be left with fond memories and a cot in the poor house. And that is after one sentence. Given the choice of finishing this paragraph or going back to writing about politics or society or even sports and art is not a choice but a redeeming factor to my existence. And yours. We’re all in this together.

But having written all the above, I will attempt to report on the current economy here, which by all indications is showing two signs – fucking gangbusters and edge of disaster. Statistics, as stated already, are less than meaningless. Ask the guy sleeping on the street as your stepping over him. But statistically, all indicators are that we have roared back from the sinkhole of 2020. Even inflation has been halved. A year ago, we and world were at nine percent. Today we are at four, the world still at nine percent. That’s fucking amazing. America currently owns the most robust post-pandemic economy of any G7 nation. And with halving inflation, unemployment is at lows that you’d only have seen if you had a gig in 1969. I was six most of that year. My gig was electric football, the Jackson 5 cartoon, and choosing peanut butter and jelly for lunch. And we’re at some kind of record number of months of payroll increases and job growth as well. Consumer confidence is at a ten-year high. They tell me the GDP is crawling but doing so in the right direction.

In the economic jungle, we’re all stupid. Or tiger chow.

Of course, this brought our president out of his hermetically sealed chamber last week to tout it. And why not? He got the Inflation-Reduction Act through Congress, along with an era-defining Chips Act. A bi-partisan infrastructure bill was also done and done. He worked with the crazies in the Republican Party to avoid dogging on our bills a few months back. If his predecessor had done half of this, he’d be doing a victory lap while eating hamburgers, but not too strenuously, because he’s dangerously obese and mightn’t have lived otherwise. But there would be band-beating tweets aplenty to be sure.

But Joe Biden, with his paltry 40-percent approval rating absolutely should be reminding people that we’re in the midst of the third verse of “Happy Days are Here Again.” But I remind him, he is playing a scary game. Owning an economy that is precarious at best is mumblety peg with a hunting knife high on meth. The same indicators that ring the bells, and Wall St. hinted at it yesterday by shedding over 500-points, also toll the bad ones. If interest rates are jacked again, even with a booming housing market, there may be no stopping a late 2023 to early 2024 recession. How hard a recession matters to who is viewing it, whether you root for the fascists or the domestic socialists. The fascists dream of the nation to be plunged into darkness so Jesus can save us from the drag queens and the Mexicans. The domestic socialists want more money for more taxes to get us more government stuff, like college debt relief or free electric cars.

A rolling economy can bring confusing signs that come from the strangest places. And what emerges from those places is someone’s business, as Patti Smith once mused, but not mine.

For kicks, Biden used the moment to shat on Ronald Reagan’s most infamous boondoggle, Trickle Down Economics. A tale of fine yacht enthusiasts tossing their crumbs to the middle class to allow their parade of malfeasance and land rape. Thus, the president’s reference to the high times now as Bidenomics. In fact, he leaned into it as a way to prove that unfettered capitalism and hoping rich people and corporations pitch favors to Johnny Lunchpail, which for the record has NEVER happened in the history of humankind, was always a pile of elitist claptrap. Ground up economics, of which Biden also noted, though, is not a thing. There is no money down there. No one has or will ever care about the worker bees deep in debt and paying the piper for our share, whatever slice that is allowed.

But, again, I don’t know fuck-all about economics, and don’t want to know, but things are so sunny these days even the bleating corpse of Larry Kudlow was singing its praises. The very man who quit a cushy TV job lying about the economy to make up numbers for Donald Trump, so he could sell whatever clusterfuck was going on before January of 2021 as “the best economy is American history” while swearing they weren’t tea-bagging the rich’s ample testicles and leaving the rest of us to suck air is left to admit this baby is cruising.

I would normally apologize for such cheap and vulgar symbolism, but I’m writing about economics. This is my point in a nutshell. I once asked an assistant for celebrated economist and former chairman of the federal reserve Allen Greenspan for his thoughts on Quantitative Easing and he went on for twenty minutes about how to remove a cock ring from your molars.

Look, I am sure things are going swimmingly now, and if this was the summer of 2024, the politics of this would be a slam dunk. But we are so far removed from that we could have seventy shifts in the economic winds by the autumn of 2024 when the country decides to hand the operation over to either a domestic terrorist or a 100-year-old man. But the whole thing is a jinx. And I shan’t be touching this subject for another decade of so. It’s safer eviscerating the stupid.

In the economic jungle, we’re all stupid.

Or tiger chow.

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MARION GORDON “PAT” ROBERTSON – 1930 – 2023

Aquarian Weekly
6/21/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
MARION GORDON “PAT” ROBERTSON – 1930 – 2023

I could not let last week’s passing of Pat Robertson go by without comment. He was a monster, a gutless bigot and purveyor of dumbness. He lived on a razor’s edge of sinister clothed in the evilest of vocations, profiting off fear and delusion. This did not make him a monster per se, even though he represented the most grotesque forms of the Christian disease. No, con men and carnies are a dime a dozen. This is what makes America thrive – feeding off the weak and desperate. We have no economy without dupes and predators. Nope. Robertson is a monster because he will be remembered for being the gateway drug to anti-intellectualism under the guise of holy order, a war against reason, freedom, and individualism traded in for a cult. And not just his Christian Broadcasting Network, or the 700 Club, or the dead-eyed gaggle of the emotionally damaged sycophants that flocked to them, but the Cult of America – knee-jerk hate nurtured from an irrational intolerance against fellow humans under the auspices of God’s will. The philosophy of systemic persecution that leads courts and congress to strike down personal sovereignty by citing superstition and voodoo. Roberson was a voodoo master. One of the worst examples of the hazardous virus of humanity. And now he is dead, and that is a cause to celebrate, as if felling Hitler or smallpox.

Unfortunately, his fumes live on.

Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson was a failure long before he ever shat upon the vox populi. Like most hucksters, he sucked at everything beside being a “preacher,” which is someone who blathers about things they cannot comprehend to fill voids in people frightened by life. Their weapon is conjecture. They take opaque reverences in the text of ancient cultures and interpret them to fulfill their agenda, then sell it as dime-store salvation. Preachers create a propagandized movement from random musings and once they see what sticks, they just slather on their own bullshit to complete the con. In a nutshell, this was Robertson’s schtick. He knew he was a serial liar, but the kick is he was happy to be so. Some people like to hump the darkness, they get off on the grift. It sustains them. The dung beetle is a content creature. Robertson lived in shit, his mind was a cesspool, his clogged with sewage. He drained them nightly on television. For money. And fame. Big cars. Fist-fucks. And worship. Every time he smiled into a camera, he endeavored to topple another pillar of America’s secure construct of secular democracy and replace it with his voodoo theology. Nice work if you can get it.

Things got real for the rest of us once Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States and let the wolf into the henhouse. Reagan’s trip jived with Robertson’s. These were men most comfortable cloaked in the myths of the White Man, the old Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism afforded to the few. Reagan hoped Robertson could bring in his evangelical flock to control the national narrative by suggesting that people stop evolving, stop reading, ignore AIDS, ignore Iran Contra, police brutality, immigrant hazing, pedophile priests and worship at the Cult of America. They worked together to normalize voodoo as a national treasure, close the collective mind and smile.

It was antiquated vengeance, an attempt to stop our cultural renaissance organically derived from generations of great artists and denizens of truth. An era of quite literal white-washing – the lie of the shining city on the hill with a mansion only inhabited by Christian gun-toting, Bible-thumping ignoramuses. They were Darwin’s runts. The last puppy to the teat. Miserable mange and black organs. A B-movie Roger Corman slaughter-fest of twentieth century thought burned at the stake and tossed back into the dark ages.

In order to complete this transition to the Cult, Reagan and Robertson needed for us to thrive in stupid – squash feminism as a threat to a theocratic order, suppress art as pornography and music as delinquency, sexual freedom as smut and free speech as dangerous. These are the forebearers of what we see today in the wrecked Republican Party of cultists and MAGA drones. Do not read, do not seek truth, do not live in reality. Hide your head, call the “other” out, save the nation from the hordes. Up is down. Wrong is right. When the myth is obliterated deny it and shout from the roof that the messiah has risen and storm the capitol and murder the infidels.

Well, Pat Robertson ain’t rising. There is no messiah for the anti-Christ, just the long black veil, the hooded reaper, and the tolling bells. Ring them loudly. Because although one disease has been eradicated there are more, and they are coming. We are infected with the preacher’s Cult and it is a growing virus, seducing our worst tendencies, idiosyncratic pestilence, a marching order of the perpetually ignorant.

Keep us stupid, buy the voodoo, vote against our interests, and live the myths.

This is the legacy of the monster. He’s not under your bed. He’s on your TV, bubba, he’s running for president, he runs Florida and Texas, he has giant flags on his pick-up truck and shames single moms and trans kids, bans books, and wants your money and your nation’s soul.

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John Lennon 1980: The Last Days in the Life – Kenneth Womack (2020)

On the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, noted Beatles’ historian and author, Kenneth Womack, accomplished again what he does best: provide us with every detail, nook, cranny, and movement of a Beatles-related story, making it come alive and matter as much as it did then.

I have admired Kenneth’s writing for years, reviewed his books in this space, and recently struck up a friendship through my work on the aforementioned Take a Sad Song. (He was kind enough to lend a blurb to its back cover.) Therefore, I was not surprised when I picked up a copy of his John Lennon 1980: The Last Days in the Life at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans – where we both spoke last summer – and could not put it down.

Womack covers the entire last year of Lennon’s life, expertly weaving a story that begins with a peaceful, hermit-like existence of a nearly 40-year-old Lennon doting on his new son, Sean, and traveling to family haunts with his wife, Yoko Ono. Soon, Lennon, as is his wont, becomes restless, takes up sailing, wherein he is plunged into a harrowing life-changing experience on the way to Bermuda and contemplates what he believes will be the rest of a long life ahead. It is this revelation along with being inspired once again by the new music of his old teenaged chum and fellow songwriting genius, Paul McCartney, that fuels Lennon’s to embark on what would be his final album, Double Fantasy.

What struck me the most about the book was the ultimately tragic but heartwarming plans Lennon had to visit his Aunt Mimi, the woman who raised him, for the first time since he and Yoko settled in the United States in the early 1970s, and how he had readied the musicians who worked on his album for a planned world tour. This, as we know, never happened.

Womack gets everyone on the record here: limo drivers, assistants, nannies, producers, studio cats, all of whom usher us through Lennon’s every move, even that fateful week and the terrible day of his murder on December 8, 1980.

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You’re with Stupid – kranky, Chicago, and the Reinvention of Indie Music – Bruce Adams (2022)

In the early 1990s, during the final years of rock and roll’s dominance on the cutting edge of music after over four decades of growth, expansion, breakdowns, and reinventions, the Indie music scene sprang up in small towns and big cities all around the USA. It was a time of DIY garage rock, electronic experimentation, ambient machinations, pseudo poetry, and a final, genuine return to roots. In the midst of this underground movement that would produce pop acts and perennials, the quick has-been to the never-was, there was kranky records. An independent label from Chicago, birthplace of genre breakthroughs, Smashing Pumpkins and its godmother, Liz Phair, it would join the fray to become part of a template that would reverberate down generations for those who wish to make it without corporate interference picking the pockets of talented dreamers.

The label’s co-founder, Bruce Adams (with fellow music geek Joel Leoschke), has a story to tell from the bleeding fringe of failure and triumph. You’re with Stupid is filled with weird and wonderful tales of a time when how to record, produce, market, and tour music had dramatically shifted away from giant arenas and bloated studios. It was a romantic period of youthful exuberance and carefree passion that Smith captures beautifully. Writing with wit and wisdom, the author brings us into the sights and sounds of promise – something that makes rock and roll still matter.

You’re with Stupid is a primer on how to and how not to go for the brass ring with one thing in mind – find and make music you love and that you wish to share with the world.

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Chuck Berry: An American Life – RJ Smith (2022)

Author RJ Smith has done a great service to the history of rock and roll by penning the most comprehensive and unflinching biography of its most celebrated founder, Charles Edward Anderson Berry. Capturing his import and influence, his experimental brilliance and relentless pursuit of bridging America’s generational and racial divides in his incredible canon, tells only half of Berry’s story. Smith uncovers the origins of the man, his upbringing in the racial and cultural hotbed of St. Louis, replete with mythical musical charms. We come to know the boy who became the man that made the music, built the social walls, and delved into the darkness of his obsessions of money, power-politics, and sexual deviance.

Aptly titled, Chuck Berry: An American Life is a study in American pop culture, it’s heroes and villains, zeitgeist, and fallout. Berry moves through its pages as he did through history as an avatar to our most ardent dreams and horrid nightmares. A deeply flawed and emotionally damaged man emerges from his triumphs and tragedies as a true victim and victor of our country’s agonizing duality. For it is in Berry’s songs, his amiable wit and twinkled eye mixed with his rough and sometimes predatory exterior that we find our national identity. As an artist in the spotlight of a movement, the book argues there may have been no one better or more ill-suited at the same time than Chuck Berry.

After finishing this book, I went and read my eulogy for Berry for this paper back in 2017. I was curious, after learning so much more than I ever did about him – some of it disturbing, some revelatory – if it shifted my final image of him. While it is hard to ignore his crimes, misogyny, or the truths laid bare by his behavior and defiance, it is also rewarding to continue to delve into the genius of Berry’s music, which has outlasted so much of his times and his flaws.

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Rock on Film: The Movies that Rocked the Big Screen – Fred Goodman (2022)

Curated by Turner Classic Movies, Rock on Film: The Movies that Rocked the Big Screen is a comprehensive overview of the entire music/film catalog from documentary to biopic to teen exploitation, concert film, and some of the more outstanding celluloid pieces of ephemera from the rock and roll era. Although handsomely compiled with tons of great photos, movie posters and behind-the-scenes shots, it is so much more. Adorned with essays from music writer Fred Goodman, Rock on Film provides unique perspectives to the most famous and the not-so well-known films featuring the most celebrated artists of the period.

An excellent perk of the book is Goodman’s “Make It a Double Feature” segment for each film, allowing similar titles to consider and provides further analyses of the styles and subjects that can be enjoyed by audiences. The key to Rock on Film is its function as a guide to digest the films while also offering fair but strong critiques of the work. Moreover, the chapter breakdowns of certain genres allow readers to discover their most striking attributes.

Also included are candid discussions with filmmakers, Cameron Crow, Jim Jarmusch, Penelope Spheeris, and Taylor Hackford – and a fine foreword by my friend, the inimitable director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

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