While We Were Away…

Aquarian Weekly 9/5/07 REALITY CHECK

WHILE WE WERE AWAY…

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. – Oscar Wilde

Lindsay LohanHot damn! It’s been too long with no words. Figure we’d kick this off with Wilde and degenerate from there.

So, let’s see, what’s going on?

It’s official; Lindsay Lohan is now The Desk’s most beloved icon. We humbly kneel before her quagmire zeitgeist. While by no means being an infinitesimal pimple on the ass of Dame Edie Sedgwick – forever our damaged goddess – she grips the mantle well. I think Warhol nails Lohan best when he once mused of Edie, “She’s perfect; I’ve never seen a girl with so many problems.”

Ah, and nothing quite tickles the fancy like unwarranted major wig-outs culminating in a whole lot of nada, as in the furor over the barely relevant Don Imus being yanked from the airwaves and the notoriously idiotic O.J. Simpson book, “If I Did It” banned for all time. Seems in my absence both are coming back with a bullet. Excellent. Good to see tasteless free expression and first amendment muscle will out. This is why we pound the pavement, my friends.

Next, it seems the Bush Cabal’s load has been lightened a tad. Alberto Gonzalez must have finally realized whatever was left of his defense had become at best laughable and at worst suicidal. In the end the embattled attorney general looked more like a character out of a Lewis Carroll tea party than anything approaching authoritative, much less sane. His downfall came somewhere between a Nurembergian “I was just taking orders” and an Ollie North “Not my job to think” series of tales so exceedingly bizarre it forced the word “semantic” to be stricken from Webster’s. Even his president had trouble burping out excuses, which, to date, has been Captain Shoo-In’s most lasting raison d’être.

Rove worked for paychecks, like the rest of us, and when he began to believe dreams mattered more than the take he crashed to earth and became a tired retread like everyone else who uses power to obtain daddy’s love.

I can think of at least a half-dozen attorney generals tagged with far more damning crimes, but not one attempting a defense so pathetically incoherent and befuddling it often bordered on the surreal. There were crucial moments during Gonzalez’s testimony before congress that he actually appeared to have been born guilty, as if he represented the essence of Original Sin, a sucker Adam booted from Eden on a bad wrap. You had to keep reminding yourself that this man was an attorney and the cornerstone of national law and not some dumb ass hillbilly beer fart who was busted for public urination.

Speaking of the foul odor emanating from hillbilly ass, how about this whole Michael Vick thing? How is it that most murder trials take fifteen years to conclude and this guy is busted, arraigned, and remanded in the stockade in two weeks? Do we really love dogs that much? Oh, the answer is a resounding Y-E-S.

How else can you explain the almost universal vilification of this walking pituitary case? Funny thing is Vick, while being a sadistic thug, hardly makes the top ten Most Horrid NFL Players list. There are guys right now on the cover of magazines who have been implicated in rape, murder, massive insurance fraud, a random series of tax evasions, and violent crimes beyond imagination. Hey, I like dogs too, but…

The only people besides fringe African American defense groups more thrilled to see Vick crash and burn was media punching bag Barry Bonds, who during my hiatus broke the all-time career home run record. Good for him, especially if he cheated, which he obviously thinks he did otherwise he would use that world-famous ornery shoulder chip of his to tell us to all go fuck ourselves because steroids and human growth hormones weren’t illegal when he injected them.

Hey, cheating defines baseball. Without cheating there is no game – sign stealing, spitballs, grounds-crew mowing techniques, and so on. Not to mention the ultimate cheat, keeping Bonds’ race and every other race but the white race out of the major leagues for half a century. Baseball is our national pastime, so what is more American than Barry Bonds owning its most sacred record. It is as poetic as a man penning the very foundation of a free nation in the monumental phrase, “All men are created equal”, while himself owning slaves.

And I know the bridge collapsing in Minnesota was a tragic screw-up by a host of parties, all of whom ignored a decade of warnings about its unsound structure, but does this mean we have to spend billions of federal tax funds gutting the entire infrastructure of the United States immediately? Please speak to the anti-Imus and anti-O.J. book crowd if you need the answer.

Ah, and to cap it off, the grand exit of our hero, Karl Rove.

I have written all I’m going to write about the Boy Genius in this space. I know one thing, say what you will, but he did get George W. Bush elected. Twice! His job description was Doer. He did not come to be loved or even understood. He lived in victory. Everything else was something of a drab annoyance to be expunged at first notice.

He took a mediocre silver-spooned boomer and a severely flawed candidate to the pinnacle of American politics. In most civilizations this is known as an unnatural act, or a sign from the gods. A Catholic mind might call it a miracle; someone weaned in Eastern philosophy might see it as a form of karma. I disagree. I see it as a complete and utter rejection of the antiquated notion that humans possess a living soul, a healthy mantra for those in the employ of Texas politics.

I once recycled an apocryphal tale about Rove when I went drink for drink with him in a rancid hotel in Florida back in 2000 after his man had been pistol-whipped by John McCain in New Hampshire. There were serious rumors abounding that Rove had had his soul removed by a Voodoo priestess in a basement temple in New Orleans’ French Quarter. But it was irresponsible reporting and I am remorseful of its publication. Karl Rove is not a soulless monster, but our invention, spawned from our school system and churches, strengthened by our moral codes and our undying fear of strange sex acts and subculture rhythms.

There was some crazy talk two weeks ago when Rove was fleeing certain subpoenas for his arms-length list of malfeasance that he once nurtured a dream of a Republican Age, a New World Order of conservative voting power and the complete control of the three branches of government by extremists bringing about the will of God into the American collective. But it was nonsense. Rove worked for paychecks, like the rest of us, and when he began to believe dreams mattered more than the take he crashed to earth and became a tired retread like everyone else who uses power to obtain daddy’s love.

Whew, I’m out of shape.

Good to be back in the saddle.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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James Campion’s “Reality Check” Celebrates Ten Years

Aquarian Weekly 8/15 – 8/29/07 REALITY CHECK

IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT, AND HE FEELS FINE
Reflections On Ten Years Of Reality Check

jc 2007

Humans need laws. We are weak and stupid and would reduce our quality of life to fossil fragments without them. We have so many laws now it would choke forty civilizations. We cram God and country and all that weepy singsong crap down every throat possible. Yet we continue to reign as the most heinous creatures sucking air. – Tramps, Thugs & The Corporate Lie 12/8/99

It feels almost as though Campion and the yet-unconquered mountain of human reason were made to square off against each other, and when I read his regular dispatches from the front of whatever war he happens to be fighting that week, I picture him standing before that mighty pile of rock, shouting out the real deal, telling logic and actuality how it really goes down on this twisted and interminably fucked planet of ours. The mountain, for its part, has no response.

And what incredible self-indulgence could drive one to grate week after week on the spinal nerves of America’s backbone in hopes of maybe digging through the spin and misinterpretation, the utter lack of context, to the discovery of true motives. Like planting a flag on the North Pole and calling it yours, so too is the futility of speaking truth to a power that simply will not listen, and doubly admirable then is continuing on until the throat is raw and bleeding.

Undaunted by the hopelessness of his or anyone (everyone) else’s position, Campion continues forward, upward and deeper inside, pulling apart the sediment of that mountain, element by element, so that at the end of it he may have the pieces wholly dissected and ready to be put back together in a way that actually makes sense. Those upon whom the title of “rational” would be heaped can only stand on the sidelines and whisper well-earned wishes of “good luck,” or otherwise lose themselves in their own desperate sneers of, “you’re out of your mind.” In either case, Campion is the one who does while we are the ones who watch.

Unable to idle in an age of enforced stillness, his is the frantic and hyperventilating voice of a man who cannot give himself up to the ultimate cynicism-that belief that in between two sides of any story there is no truth to be found. Whether there is or not, I’m at no liberty to say, but I take great comfort knowing there remains at least one good human being out there dedicating his decades to finding out for sure.

To the next 10,

JJ KoczanAquarian Weekly Managing Ed. July 2004-May 2007

John CusackCampion’s whole bleak trip is a means to an end. It’s so apocalyptic it has to be a put-on, or it reveals ulterior motives, like a reverse pep talk. As long as he’s painting everything dark you no longer feel so bad about your place in it.

John Cusack Actor

Interventions and parental group therapy are nice, but a carefully placed fist to the temple sets the bully straight and gives a lifetime of hope for the bullied. I’ve had plenty of experience with bullies, and it sounds to me like the AMA is bullying us into robbing our kids of childhood’s most precious victory, the ass-whupping of the deserved. Life is about a series of defeating bullies; the sooner we understand it, the better. – In Defense Of The American Bully 6/26/02

I first came across “jc” while interviewing him about Deep Tank Jersey and Fear No Art, the latter had just been published. Coffee turned to beer and critical interpretations of music [Lester Bangs on low battery life] led to insights about religious exile – no Main Street here – rather an address amid a hipster neighborhood yet to be discovered by the New Yorker or some other rag worthy of at least a few page turns before interest turns to self congratulatory prose. You won’t find Campion there, however. He lurks between the shadows cast by accepted “rogue” journalists. Lyricist John Perry Barlow penned the phrase “Shadow boxing the apocalypse;” Campion’s column is his gloves. Ten years in, the laces are tattered, the red, leather mitts scuffed but his blows still hit hard, especially when on target.

Late last year my wife and I read excerpts of Midnight For Cinderella at some joint in New York City celebrating its release. The bar was loud, the PA was at times inaudible, but somehow Campion’s truths, his take, rang true.

Keep on, keeping on…

Will King Musician (“Coming On In From The Cold”) Journalist (North Country News, The New Jersey Cooperator, Rescue Magazine)

James Campion was an ardent supporter of my former column, Ruminations for many years, during which time he made outlandish declarations about my thoughts and writing. He is often self-indulgent (aren’t we all!) and takes his own opinions way too seriously (ahem! I too have been guilty of same!) but he’s also brilliant at his best, consistently passionate and insightful.

Rita J. King Journalist/Author (Village Voice, CorpWatch, Huffington Post)

Breakfast With HunterJames Campion sees the truth in art and life in ways that few people recognize and even fewer are able to express so eloquently.

Wayne Ewing Filmmaker (Breakfast with Hunter, When I Die, The Last Campaign)

Come now, fellow travelers, this is the waning century. Let us rise from slumber and count the coffee beans among us. Power corrupts, and absolute power is like an IV loaded with speedballs cruising through the main vein. It is King Richard III wandering through the desert looking to trade the Third World for a goddamned horse. No human can survive it with a shred of decency left intact. There are horrible places on this globe where you can go to see the fierce results of its wounds. – Ugly Truth 3/24/98

When I started Hackwriters I had lots of enthusiastic writers but none with any political savvy. James sent in a piece that was witty, intelligent and a little wicked. I knew immediately that here was a guy with talent and a great set of values. James Campion wants the world to be better than it is and knows that someone has to point out the imperfections. I cannot think of a better man to point the finger than James Campion and we have valued every piece for eight long years. The world is still imperfect so anticipate that James has a long career ahead of him.

Sam North Editor of Hackwriters.com

Dan BernCampion doesn’t bash sacred cows – he bludgeons them, removes their entrails, leaves them wishing they had never been cows at all. And yet, for all of it, Campion has that thing held probably in common by all great satirists, be they Swift, Twain, Mencken, Vonnegut, or Campion’s beloved Hunter Thompson: a deep romanticism, an unshakeable love for the things, people, ball teams, bands, towns and ideas that have been unable to lose him along the way.

Dan Bern Singer/Songwriter (12 CDs and EPs, including New American Language, Fleeting Days, and Breathe) Author (Quitting Science, Tales of Toscana, Ted The Cow, World Cup)

I am lucky to have friends with guts of steel and the resolve of titans. Unfortunately for them I have none of these attributes, and can only churn out bad words and funny asides about meaningless bullshit, so I offer only my gratitude and undying friendship to the faithful. The Desk is dead. Long live The Desk. – A Bittersweet End To The Putnam Bunker 9/5/01

Know this, if you know anything about what is slowly happening to the social landscape of this country, as long as this nation is at war the truth can no longer be considered an absolute, it is a concept to be manipulated and raped and put on display for those with agendas to dance around like savages soliciting rain. – Post Mortem On War Coverage 4/9/03

Pat BuchananI think we have pretty much astonished the establishment so far. We’ve been out there fighting battles, and the more they call us names and the more they say this and that it just tells me that we’re in this thing for the long haul.

Pat Buchanan Political Commentator, two-time presidential candidate, speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan

One question to the editor of the Aquarian: Did you ever actually check Jim’s references ten years ago? Apparently not. The good thing is, through on the job training and a naturally poisonous keyboard, Jim has managed to make even this rock-ribbed Republican occasionally laugh at my own party. That’s talent. There aren’t many writers with the wit and sarcasm of Jim Campion. In fact, I can only think of one. And you’re lucky enough to have him.

Rob Astorino Former Westchester County Legislator, Executive Producer of the Michael Kay Show/ESPN, and current program director of The Catholic Channel on Sirius Radio

“So how does it feel to be Clinton’s butt buddy? How can someone be so wrong so often and still be able to live with themselves?” The response of “if you don’t like it write your own fucking column” began my three-year journey of sharing the political page of the Aquarian with one, James Campion.

James’ writing style is pure genius. It is a wicked combination of intellect and street smarts that says he can kick your ass while simultaneously spouting the works of Aristotle and the combined ERA of the ’78 Yankees starting rotation. His biting wit and satire on all things sports, political or pop culture makes waiting out the week all that more fun.

He ain’t lib and he ain’t conservative…he’s James Campion, and I believe he hates everyone equally.

Thanks for the laughs and the inspiration. May you have many more 10-year anniversaries. The thinking public needs you around.

Bill Roberts Conservatively Speaking

What level of brain-dead mannequins are we enduring with this vat of bilge? We need gory caged ferret fights to the death. That is how democracy works, not some number-crunching pinheads with interchangeable personalities. Likeable sods with wet feet and dapper ties leave us with grinning charlatans from the South pampered by daddy’s oil and tobacco money. This is what we deserve now. We don’t want any nasty commentary on the way things are, just force-feed us the Pollyanna pabulum and send us to bed with no dinner. – Notes From The Campaign Fringe 10/18/00

Messenger RecordsDuring my 11 years as an owner of an independent record label, I’ve come across only a small handful of writers who go beyond great writing talent. Having integrity and the resolution to act upon it is not a choice; it’s in their DNA. James is one of those few. He is militantly honest and passionate, and he seeks and exposes the truth wherever he can find it. James is among the best of the good guys.

Brandon Kessler Messenger Records

CAMPION… the name itself brings pimples to my geese! First time I saw him I thought he was one of the dwarves from the castle, turns out he’s a glorious midget with a knack for the written word. GENIUS… that’s what he is… I’ve not seen such unrestrained rambling since I spoke at that Meth convention in Prague. Say what you want about Meth heads… at least they DO!! And Campion… Do’s… yes…. the man is BRILLIANT!! I love his writing so much I HATE IT! Kaptain Von Karl, my Minister of Propaganda idolizes the freak! Especially for his infamously twisted plan to make his Jesus book so big… no one would be inclined to move, let alone lift and carry it back to a book shelf, thereby forcing the poor sap who purchased it to create a permanent advertisement for Campion on their coffee table. The “child” in Campion is strong… the “imp” and “brat” powerful… He is quite assuredly… a shaman, a prophet… an Asshole! Long live the Midget Asshole!

The Mighty Chief Wonka BLAZO!! (Publisher of “Fear No Art”)

Colonel Campion has illustrated a consistent objectivity in the dispensing of ire. No one is sacred, no punches are pulled. One week he’ll piss off the conservatives, the next the liberals, and the next both. But hey, fair is fair, and if you’re going to lift up that rock, you’d better expose all the slugs.

Chris Uhl Aquarian Weekly Managing Ed. 1998-2002

The manifestation of violence from hatred is delicate. It is nurtured as much as the trip from love to philanthropy. What happens on a dim Tuesday just outside of Denver should not be looked at as an aberration as much as a culmination. We are lucky more children don’t take to the streets with savage vengeance for the abuse, distrust, and pain we substitute for understanding, and the garbled misinformation we trade for teaching. – Cyclical Pain: Child Abuse In The 90s 4/21/99

Eric HutchinsonI love James’ writing, and not just because he usually speaks highly of me in it. He displays a sincere, thoughtful touch while still managing to sound jaded and pissed off at just about everything. His rantings are the stuff Dennis Miller wishes he had the mental capacity to pull off. James is the moral compass of Northern New Jersey. Now THAT’S scary.

Eric Hutchinson Singer/Songwriter (…Before I Sold Out, Sunds Like This)

James Campion, a More Handsome Michael Moore?

I first met Mr. Campion when he was shaking his finger at the universe along with my friend Al Quagliata, they spoke at length with a scathing vocabulary which seemed to police the very stars into alignment. They were at a bar and I coerced Al to introduce me to his handsome pontificating partner. James was friendly for a moment, then asked me what project I was working on and how I knew Al. I confess I was worried that he might criticize me along with the corrupt politicians and racist movie stars. I briefed him on “Putnam,” a one-act musical about superstars (Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, etc.) staging early deaths to get out of the fame ring. Quagliata (excellent comic actor/impressionist) was portraying John Lennon at the time. Lucky for me, James softened to the concept that a talent agency might just enact a celebrity’s demise if for no other reason than to get the paparazzi off their backs, giving some validity to the notorious Elvis sightings. Then like a rodeo cowboy, he immediately jumped back on the journalistic beast, holding on tight to the beliefs he’s been riding now for ten years. I’ve been a fan ever since we met and highly recommend Trailing Jesus before the Middle East disappears entirely.

Sharon Fogarty Playwright (The Overdevlopment of Scott, Putnam, Portrait of the Artist as a Dumb Blonde)

It has never been particularly important for me to have anything resembling a strong philosophy or belief. Those things are transient, like standing at a railway station and hoping to get to Detroit by taking the nonstop to Philadelphia. I want the next train that pulls in to head in my desired direction, but no matter what I believe, the damn thing is going to Philly. It’s a train all right, but not the one I hope it will be. – What Is Belief? 8/8/01

A national election being decided by one state, controlled by partisan judges and attorney generals presiding over clairvoyant hand counts, where hired drones spin electronic ballots into lamplight to guess at voter intent: It is entirely possible that a Zippy the Chimp funzo dance on a Twister mat would be a more legally binding and fair-minded attempt at choosing the leader of the free world. – Surviving The Great “System” Anal Probe 11/29/00

Ralph NaderI thank you, James, for your continuous support of my independent message and your reasoned good will in the face of political hysteria, and most of all keeping the hope for a progressive agenda alive in this country. I’ve tried to give voice to tens of millions of people as the underdog candidate for Americans who get pushed around and defrauded and harmed and disrespected and excluded and underpaid and laid off and denied health care. The American people need to know they can have anything they want, the problem is they don’t seem to want anything at all, or at least it appears that way on Election Day.

We’re all prisoners of an exclusive two-party monopoly with a barrier called an electoral college and we’ve got to break out of prison. We have to liberate our minds, begin voting our conscience, and stop voting for politicians who go to Washington and month after month vote against their supporters. They’ve turned over the U.S. government to an increasingly smaller number of giant multi-nationals, who’ve turned Washington into corporate occupied territory, and have no allegiance to our country or communities other than to control or abandon them to China or elsewhere as they see fit.

Keep up the good fight.

Ralph Nader Historic consumer advocate, three time independent presidential candidate, author, and tireless activist

Your piece on my book The Trials Of Lenny Bruce was really terrific. You’ve done Lenny and me a great honor. I’m even more grateful for your enthusiastic endorsement of and efforts on behalf of my work. Also, having perused your book, Fear No Art, I can honestly say it is a please to experience the range of emotions expected from the works of a fine essayist.

David Skover Dean’s Distinguished Research Scholar & Professor of Law at Seattle University

Kathleen Glynn & Michael MooreKeep giving them hell, James.

Kathleen Gynn Author, Film Producer, Activist

The abuse of LSD at the New York Times has reached epidemic proportions. I happen to know it isn’t just at the print level anymore, but management and editorial staff have now imbibed beyond any definition of recreational consumption. This is why the Times has never understood George W. Bush. The president is a cokehead. He has all the tendencies: paranoia, overt machismo, a painful inability to construct coherent thoughts verbally, and a penchant to scratch his groin incessantly without shame. Only a serious speed freak would continue to describe what is happening in Iraq as progress. And only acid junkies would comment so blindly that there is some kind of insidious U.S. plan for a bloodless coup in that mess. – Manifest Destiny Made Easier Through Modern Chemistry 12/29/04

While I’ve yet to meet the man, James Campion is on a short list of people I wouldn’t mind sharing a bunker with. Bravely holding ground, wisely weighing when to flank and attack, and keenly aware of his enemies’ weak points, he pens Reality Check, the longest currently-running column The Aquarian Weekly is proud to publish, based on an entirely unscientific, dusty once-over of our archives. It’s that breed of brazen, unemotional analysis of the world’s organized evil that we hold dear here, and there’s no better soldier than James.

Patrick Slevin Aquairan Weekly Managing Editor

James Campion keeps amazing me. He is one of the few demented souls our industry has produced. As fast as I could, I’ve tried to think of new and exciting editorial ideas to throw his way and every time I did he came through with flying colors. I’m proud to call him friend, but I have warned him more than once if I get one more call in the middle of the night begging for plane fare to D.C. in order to find kidnapped journalists I will shoot him.

Dan Davis Editor-In-Chief/Editorial Director Magna Publishing Group

Denise MihalikI have had the most delicious time conspiring with James. He is inspiring, truthful, audacious, and a TOTAL muse. He’s liberated and free and inspires others to be themselves. UNAFRAID. He mused me into creating a slew of art for his book, Midnight For Cinderella, which was out of the ordinary for me and totally rad. I have never had so much fun working with anyone in my life. Creatively he just says… GO…DO…BE.

Denise Mihalik Artist/Photographer

I think if people actually read the Bible, there could be trouble. But people don’t read. They watch television and snowboard and make money and plot getting laid. And when it comes time to do whatever they feel like doing or hating or co-opting, they interpret things like the Bible in their own interesting way. Worse still, they rely on crooked hacks to do it for them, which gets us all in trouble. – Gay Bishops & Other Modern Illusions 8/13/03

Jim Campion is pure gold. There is not an ounce of bullshit in his commentary. The man is straight up, and what more can you ask from a politically charged, passionate scribe. His battles are selfless, righteous and to the point. In recent defense of my plight, Jim Campion went above and beyond the call of duty in a piece entitled; Hooligans in the Press Room (almost one year ago to the day). The piece was vintage Campion; pure and seething, as he attacked a pack of clueless piranhas (a new publisher and managing editor) at the North County News who dismantled the best weekly sports section in the nation in one fell swoop.

When he worked freelance for me back in the wee ’90s covering the sports beat in Westchester and Putnam County, I looked forward to Campion’s fiery piece each week, just as I looked forward to our weekly beers at the End Zone Sports Bar in Putnam Valley, NY. The readers of Reality Check are now prone to his prose, hooked to his interpretation, and fortunate for his views. A decade of excellence has captured their eyes and minds… may his venomous spew continue.

Ray Gallagher NYSPA Award-Winning Editor, Writer & Photographer (North County News, Bedford Record, Lewisboro Ledger, Putnam Co. News & Recorder, P’Ville/Mt. Kisco Examiner & the Hastings Enterprise)

Ani DiFrancoI enjoy our conversations. I really do. But I do not use e-mail and I get all my news from the Nation and Ms. Magazine. I live on a bus most of the time, and I steer pretty clear of the TV. I can’t watch TV. It depresses me or enrages me. CNN is an impossible place to tap into anything real since all of the information is completely co-opted and controlled by corporate forces. I really don’t have a mind for the hyper details of foreign policy, or of what the stupid white men are doing, but I do have some basic ideas and feelings and impressions. I would make a very bad columnist like yourself, because if you believe in objectivity, then your reading of any kind of media is going to be misguided.

But I do enjoy our conversations.

Ani DiFranco Singer/Songwriter/Poet/Activist

Just know that authors inspire young writers, but scribes like Thompson, Twain or Mencken do not inspire, they abduct. Taken hostage, bound and gagged and beaten mercilessly from the first sentence. It is violent and disturbing, like all of life’s greatest gifts, not unlike an actual birth, with pain and screaming and blood everywhere. – Hunter Stockton Thompson 1937-2005 3/2/05

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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Ten Years of Reality Check Column

Aquarian Weekly 8/8/07 REALITY CHECK

DECAYED AT THE DESK

Ten Years Of Treachery, Mockery & Felony

The only people who know about mercy are the ones who need it. – Charles Bukowski

I have been putting words in this space for ten years this month. Ten years. I have never held a gig for that long, ever, anywhere, for anything. I am a freelancer. This is not a job description or any kind of reasonable vocation, it is a lifestyle, no, a malady, no, more like a virus one accepts to live with until they find a cure, but then you realize you’re immune to any vaccine so you endure, because you must. But between the years of 1997-2007 I held firm my position here at The Reality Check News & Information Desk, thanks to the bravely insane people at The Aquarian Weekly, four hearty managing editors, the precipitous influence of the Internet, and the most diversified, deranged, and ornery readership in the Fourth Estate.

JC in ItalyMillions upon millions of words, week after week, month after month, about subjects far and wide, opining for pennies, editorializing for catharsis, shoveling wit on the cheap. This is the fate I chose willingly, or not.

A few months after the publishing of my first book, Deep Tank Jersey, written in the shadow of the region’s finest pop culture/music magazine, its then managing editor, Dan Davis, began harassing me to explain myself. I could never quite grasp his motives, but he kept buying me drinks, so I indulged him. Then I began turning the tables; sending letter after letter to the editor’s desk about kidnapped journalists I dated in college, my meager affiliation with local sports figures, and one lengthy missive decrying a barely-cobbled New Jersey State Commission protesting a Marilyn Manson show at the Meadowlands.

Speedwriting senseless junk and repeatedly faxing it to editors seemed like a good idea at the time. I had quit all modes of journalism for almost two years and was sufficiently bored with book-plugs and writing fiction, so I spent enormous blocks of my time aggravating legitimate periodicals with the most rancid and unconscionable spite imaginable.

So to my beloved readers, friends, family, and citizens of earth, I say, thank you from the bottom of my vapid heart, tortured soul, and fractured brain. It has been a pleasure to expunge my bile before you.

Soon after, Davis stopped buying rounds, which I took for an ominous sign, and hired me to pen a sports column for another publication. I did so, reluctantly, having toiled in every mind-numbing corner of sports journalism for six years. But free drinks are a powerful aphrodisiac for the freelancer. Never attempt it. They’ll end up sleeping on your couch and making long distant phone calls to their agent by morning.

Here’s where my affiliation with this magazine becomes hazy. Someone, and it may have been Dan, hired me to lend my voice to some half-baked editorial experiment; three generations discuss issues, one younger, one more grizzled (me), and one more established. Lord knows who those other people were and where they now reside, but I kept plugging, week after week, sending one onerous sentiment after the other, exceeding an impressive personal record for vulgarity and wrath.

And here’s the deal: No one objected. No one. Occasionally I would get a phone call wondering if I had been abused as a child or accidentally doubled the medication, but for the most part I kept sending column after putrid column to press and these maniacs kept printing it. I only walked into the offices once the first year and a half when the surprised receptionist actually remarked that I “didn’t look like a monster”.

It was a venerable laugh-a-minute soul by the name of Chris Uhl who then suggested I take this exercise up from 500 to 800 words and call the thing Reality Check. I wanted to call it Fear No Art. He refused, claiming it made no sense. I asked if he had even read my work, to which he responded, “Mildly”. Later I signed on with a web-based content firm run by a crazed renaissance man called Chief Wonka, where he set me up with a nifty web site and published the first three years of Reality Check in a compendium called, you guessed it, Fear No Art – Observations On The Death Of The American Century.

The demented Wonka and Uhl, who succeeded Davis as managing editor, used their posts to bate me into seducing libel. We came close those first few months, but alas, my years of training had bested us. I would not be going to jail or be successfully sued, although on four separate occasions the weak and stupid attempted it. But we sent them packing, humiliated by defeat and shunned as constitutional pariah. I knew my First Amendment rights and would continue unabated to stretch their limits for a decade. Much of this harangue appears in Midnight For Cinderella – Reality Check Papers Volume II, released late last year.

The new boys on the block, J.J. Koczan and now Patrick Slevin have more or less left me alone or come to my aid when the heat was on. I thank them as I thank my editor Terry Allen, whose preternatural adherence to deadlines would give the most ardent fascist pause. I also send plaudits to publishers Chris Farinas and Diane Casazza, the latter of whom I never met, who I think still gain a measure of profit from this enterprise, and anyone else on the masthead who’ve helped me wax exotic, sell books, and act like a petulant jackass for ten long and painful years.

The Desk has moved several times over two states these past years. We’ve taken on some fine young journalists, radicals, freeloaders, and substance abusers; I met my wife along the way, suckered her into hitching her gorgeous/mad wagon to mine, and help plant our freak-flag on the terra. I have befriended and made enemy of some notable celebrities, politicians, and artists in every realm. They read my stuff, and yet continue to drop my name in respectable circles. I am a better man for having known, spoken to, skewered and lauded them.

I have asked a good many of them to lend their thoughts, recollections, disgust, and blame to this space over the remaining weeks of this month. Why would I subject myself to such a professional roasting? For one, I have not taken two consecutive weeks off from this mess in ten years, and two, I’ve been meaning to get a well-deserved public butt kicking before autumn.

So to my beloved readers, friends, family, and citizens of earth, I say, thank you from the bottom of my vapid heart, tortured soul, and fractured brain. It has been a pleasure to expunge my bile before you.

Here’s to another decade, or not.

IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT AND HE FEELS FINE – Observations on Ten Years of Reality Check

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The Blame Game

Aquarian Weekly 7/25/07 REALITY CHECK

THE BLAME GAMEPowerless Senate Debuts Finger-Pointing Show

Now that the latest surge of U.S. troops to Iraq has reduced our boy president to a cold-blooded murderer, we have the flaccid legislative Charge of The Lightweightsbranch of our government, which had its chance to refuse funding this slaughter months ago, join in as willing accomplices. The final indignation came this past week when the senate had the gall to turn what is fast becoming the most egregious mishandling of military operations in this nation’s sordid history into political theater. Complete with spine-tingling video of cots being rolled in and pizza deliverymen rushing up the Capital Hill steps, hapless CSPAN speechifying and spin-room garbles, an exercise in futility was allowed to go on for 20 useless hours ending with nothing.

Meanwhile, the United States Army parades into its fiftieth month of policing genocide with no mission beyond keeping its collective finger in the dam. What is left of the Republicans claim there is still a war going on, one that is imperative to save the planet, while the Democrats, many of whom voted for this invasion in the first place, hope to wash their hands of blood. And it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is not a solid majority among them that can offer a binding decision on any of it.

People whose job description is to song-and-dance have rarely exhibited a more self-serving showcase of gutless pabulum. Considering the hilarious history of congressional dog-and-pony filibuster acts, this is not an easy benchmark to reach, but reach it they did on 7/17, when for all intents and purposes the directionless Democrats called out doom-struck Republican hawks in a clumsy schoolyard blame game.

Every day I sit down to pen this nonsense; I’m prouder than ever to be an American.

I’ll say one thing, if I were a soldier in Iraq or the family of someone over there right now, I’d never pay another dollar in taxes again, vote anymore, and before moving off this continent, burn everything that reminds me I was an American citizen.

Can you imagine the level of horror and disgust in these people as they watch their elected officials convene for an endless debate on a fantasy bill submitting a spring deadline to the president for the withdrawal of troops when every one of them knows there is no way they’d even come close to enough votes for it?

Can you fathom the stinging bile that would be rising in your throat when you realize that this jockeying for position on who will be the architects of the inevitable face-saving pull-out next year or the year after, and which party might be better poised to gain the White House, appears far more important a goal than the safety and/or sane deployment of yourself or your loved ones?

Entering a fifth year of puttering around in the middle of a kill-fest, the American people, who have sacrificed family, life, limb, and billions in taxes deserve better than posturing, filibustering, and shameless name-calling.

Assuming, and this is a big assumption these days, that every senator understands the parameters of their position in the framework of this government, what other conclusion could a relatively objective observer come to but this staged event was nothing more than posturing?

This is as high an insult as a government can pay to its citizenry: “We know you have little idea and care even less how your system works, so we’ll make a mockery of it to appear sincere and hope you’re stupid enough to feel emboldened by our effort.”

And now for the Reality Check portion of our presentation…

At this juncture of waging war or using troops to colonize a nation, the congress has no recourse to cease it unless it cuts off funding. The congress can declare war or hand over the power of using military force to the commander-in-chief when the subject is broached, as it was in the spring of 2002 when 296 representatives voted in favor of it, 215 of which were Republicans and 81 Democrats. The only other true power the congress has after this is to fund said conflict, which they continued to do by supporting the recent “surge”. Of course they did so with a laughable non-binding resolution “disapproving” of the action; “I disapprove of you using this bat to beat the shit out of me, but here you go, sport.”

Bills, resolutions, debates, and staged harangues are tantamount to feeding an unstable fellow a blotter of acid, handing him the keys to your car and daring him to hit 100 mph. Then as you’re both careening off a cliff, you turn to him and plead for cautiousness. Oh, and to complete this stirring analogy, just before you plunge to your death, you make damn sure he knows this is all his fault.

Entering a fifth year of puttering around in the middle of a kill-fest, the American people, who have sacrificed family, life, limb, and billions in taxes deserve better than posturing, filibustering, and shameless name-calling.

I may have been mistaken or half-asleep or doped up, but I could swear Hillary Clinton has been running around giving speeches that the reasoning behind her 2002 vote was to merely allow the president the right to use force only if absolutely necessary. That’s not even decent Clintonian double-speak. Is it possible that this drool is what Democrats now call an anti-war strategy? “I may have given my car keys to an acid head, but I was stunned he drove it off a cliff!”

Look, everyone without shit for brains knows that four years of exit strategy is as bad as it gets. The over-matched president, who no longer has to run for office, has checked out of the Hotel Reality. The sickly vice president is likely to be dead by next year. The secretary of state has pitched her tent on Denial Mountain. And now it looks as though congress, those of whom are not busy running for president, is so ill prepared to deal with its neutered position, you wonder why they show up.

Meanwhile this prop of an Iraq government takes August off, the press pays lip service to backtracking generals, and kids die day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day.

I’m sure if any of them were here, they’d be glad the architects of this abortion consider this is some kind of spotlight for their guilt, a soapbox for ideology, and have gone through so much trouble to fill a rotunda with blame.

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Melissa Ferrick/Union Hall, Brooklyn

 

Aquarian Weekly 7/18/07

MELISSA FERRICK / UNION HALL, 6/22/07

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Melissa FerrickForced to sit due to what she duly warns the tightly packed audience is “a taping” of her show, Melissa Ferrick, dressed ultra-casually in a plain white tee shirt with rolled up sleeves, jeans and sneakers, cruises through an inspired hour-and-a-half set as if she were a bolt of pure energy tethered to a fraying rope. Bursting, straining, fueled on self-purging lyric, whiplash strumming, and a soaring vocal range, Ferrick is not your run-of-the-mill “angry woman” artist – affected, pouting, rebellious – just the opposite, she is charmingly humble, furtive in her approach, and utterly joyful. And none of it smacks of insincerity. To watch her perform is to be let in, shown all the parts, the emotions, and the fury. And oddly, in a music/image marketplace of fabricated angst and X-chromosome fist pumping, this full-voiced folksinger cum country siren can still manage to kick the collective ass.

Ferrick is a rare breed of artist in that to witness her unique expression you are left feeling as though you are doing her the favor by listening. The songs, many of which appear on her most recent release, In The Eyes Of Strangers, unfurl less as a manifesto than a plea, something to be savored rather than ravished; simply crafted chording and infectious melodic structures that seduce rather than assault.

One after the other, Ferrick regales the receptive crowd, crammed into the tiny downstairs room of the quaintly decorated old building, with heartfelt numbers. The wonderful sing-a-long quality of “Never Give Up”, which has the house clapping and bellowing, the churning rhythm of “Inside”, or the deceptively cheerful, “Closer” are songs which reveal approachable emotions like fear of commitment, insecurity in relationships, and the strands of an unruly life beginning to, albeit reluctantly, “settle in”.

“I like to interact with people, get them to tell me what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling as best they can; in a way that’s not destructive to either them or me – so as to not drag them through the trenches of my life. It’s kind of an interesting crossroad.”

In a recent conversation, Ferrick discusses her method to locate these endearing odes to relatable everyday battles; “The best way for me to write is at home, just sitting in the living room with the television on mute for stimulation. Certainly all the best songs come from absolutely nowhere, out of the blue, when I’m a little agitated or annoyed with something, but I don’t know what it is, and then usually a week or so after that I’ll write a bunch of songs and I’ll go; ‘Oh, I guess I just needed to get the emotions out of my head and down on paper’.”

In most cases, as with all truly effective songwriting, Melissa Ferrick songs are so eerily relevant, their meanings, even to the writer, become ambiguously open-ended. “I know it’s a good song if I don’t even realize what it’s really about,” she explains. “I like the songs that other people help me understand, and then I’m like; ‘You know what? You’re right’.”

An excellent example of Ferrick’s signature style is the understated brilliance of “Come On Life”, a wistful ballad to what I immediately dubbed as “justifiable paranoia”, which she politely chuckled upon hearing. It pulls no punches, raw and unapologetic, utilizing the words “back-stabbing” in almost every refrain. I queried if it might be about anyone in particular, akin to Alanis Morissette’s controversial “You Oughta Know”.

“When I first wrote it and started playing it live I didn’t have the ending part, the last line; ‘There’s a singer out here and she’s stabbing.’ That just came out when I was playing it and I thought, ‘That’s how to turn this around and have the audience think that maybe it’s me I’m singing about’.”

No matter what she might be singing about, Ferrick is a proficient vocalist with a natural ability to sound demure, subtly whispering, and then, out of nowhere, belt out a long, high, ripping note, tearing through the room with reckless abandon. Likening herself more a “rock and roller” than “folk”, which she argues is a lazy way the music business attaches a genre on every woman singer-songwriter. “Do you really think Joni Mitchell is a folksinger?” she exclaims. Ferrick displays an array of dynamics, creating the illusion that an entire ensemble is accompanying her.

By show’s end, she is sweaty, breathless, and exhibiting the exhausted smile of an artist who has just shared a genuine experience with her audience, and by her effusive praise of the overwhelming cheers, she’s glad to have sparked it.

“I’m not much of a quiet wanderer,” Ferrick chuckled embarrassingly a few days before the performance, providing a fair glimpse behind what sparks her. “I like to interact with people, get them to tell me what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling as best they can; in a way that’s not destructive to either them or me – so as to not drag them through the trenches of my life. It’s kind of an interesting crossroad.”

On this night the crossroad is the historic Union Hall in Brooklyn, New York.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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Dick Cheney Power Abuse

Aquarian Weekly 7/11/07 REALITY CHECK

SONG OF THE DYING WHALE How A Decomposing Beached Sea Mammal Came To Bury A Presidency

Why did the president of the United States today interfere in a legal trial and do something he found deeply distasteful and hurtful? Three explanations. One, the war party, the neo-cons, demanded it as the price of staying behind him. Two, the vice president of the United States went in and called in all of his chits for his buddy. Three, the president or somebody in there feels that Scooter Libby behind bars is a walking time bomb. – Pat Buchanan 7/3/07

The Almighty DickWhile I am of the opinion that the law is bullshit (please refer to two of the past three entries to this space for ample proof) I am a sucker for the U.S. Constitution. It is the only part of this boondoggle democracy that separates the American people from being completely screwed by its government. In it, the vice presidency was originally framed as the second-leading receiver of votes in a general election. In other words, if things were not amended in 1804, John Kerry would be our vice president today, and not Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney, who has been allowed to infect every part of the fantastically bungled presidency of George W. Bush.

But, alas, the advent of party politics diminished the roll of the vice president, reducing the office to pretty much nothing; nothing and the occasional crumb as president of the senate, which is maybe a two to three day a year gig.

To put it more directly, these past six years of twisted machinations emanating from the vice president’s office, from advocating war on a whim to the financing, running and clean-up of the thing through his buddies and jacking around the CIA to cover it up, is not only highly irregular, but downright stupid, which goes a long way to crushing these crazed leftist fantasies of a conniving, evil Boy President.

The Dick Cheney power-grab intimidation weight-throwing extravaganza has gotten so out of hand that not even the most ardent supporters of the now sadly debunked Bush-Is-In-Charge theory have to run for cover. If Captain Shoo-In had been anything but a vacuous walking suit, the rogue nature of the state department, secretary of defense, and especially the vice president would not have sunk his legacy in a sea of “old men clumsily attempting to capture the glory days” blunders.

Cheney is by definition of the constitution and the framework of our government an insignificant lump of flesh waiting for the president to die or the senate to be tied on some bill. His is a job best described as beached whale, but through some incredible malfeasance of reason he has been allowed to not only rule, but rule with mind-bending haphazard dumbness.

Cheney is by definition of the constitution and the framework of our government an insignificant lump of flesh waiting for the president to die or the senate to be tied on some bill. His is a job best described as beached whale, but through some incredible malfeasance of reason he has been allowed to not only rule, but rule with mind-bending haphazard dumbness.

John Adams was our first vice president. He deemed the position as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” Thomas R. Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson, once mused; “Once there were two brothers. One went away to sea; the other was elected vice president. And nothing was heard of either of them again.” When the animated statesman, Daniel Webster was offered a place on Zachary Taylor’s ticket, he declined, saying; “I do not intend to be buried until I am dead.” And before quitting in disgust, John Nance Garner, FDR’s first vice president, aptly described the position as not being “worth a pitcher of warm piss”.

So how is it that a slowly decomposing Washington lifer like Dick Cheney has survived long enough to become one of the most vocal, influential, vilified, dastardly, inept, and unilaterally unlucky men to ever hold the vice presidency? How did a relatively innocuous Bush Sr. cabinet member, who left politics a bitter and beaten man, morph into the most powerful vice president since another Dick ran the coma that was the Eisenhower administration?

There is only one answer: The president, completely overwhelmed and weakly qualified, allows it.

The second those towers fell in Manhattan on 9/11, Cheney has been an utter disaster for this absentee president. Somewhere between the Halliburton mess, the fiasco over “enriched uranium from Africa”, and a host of misnomers on the war as in “We will be welcomed as liberators” and “The insurgency is in its last throes”, to this ill-conceived Scooter Libby nonsense, the shooting of a man and covering it up, and now these bevy of “top secret” documents his office is hiding, Junior has allowed a man with no power nor a precedence for the claiming of power to hammerlock his authority and run the White House into the ground.

The president’s commuting of Libby’s sentence this past week is further evidence he has no say in his own administration. There is no good reason on the heels of having his immigration legislation summarily squashed by the right wing of congress, after it was openly derided by every conservative mouthpiece living, to hand out a gift like this. It is especially troubling when you consider Bush has been on record as loathing the commuting or pardoning of more questionable and harsher sentences while governor of Texas, and, most telling, became a viable candidate for president by running on some corny “restoring dignity to the presidency” hoo-ha.

No, Libby avoids prison to halt further legal battles and a final humiliation for this sad-sack second term. It is also not coincidental that Libby was not granted a complete pardon, which keeps him from having to testify in the pending civil trial by Ambassador Joe Wilson. If Libby were imprisoned, he’s likely to squeal. If he were a free man, he could be subpoenaed and squeal. So the commuting of his sentence makes it patently obvious a deal was struck to have him take a bullet for the shenanigans of his boss, Dick Cheney. The trial was a fraud, taxpayer money was wasted, and the law…everyone say it with me…is bullshit.

But there is always the Constitution, and if this milquetoast Congress could grow some stones, we might have ourselves the kind of lengthy and painful investigations that will all but cripple this already hemorrhaging swindle of a presidency.

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Michael Moore & His “SiCKO” Utopia

Aquarian Weekly 7/4/07 REALITY CHECK

MICHAEL MOORE & HIS “SiCKO” UTOPIA

It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play. – Miles Davis

Michael Moore is one of the few completely moral public figures left. He really is. Everything you read about him, his over-zealous bending of truth, his leftist propaganda, and his antipatriotic rhetoric, pales in "Sicko"comparison to his impeccable moral structure. He’s a rock of optimism and compassion in a selfish, paranoid, dehumanizing world. Moore may be misguided at times, even silly, and after watching an advanced copy of his new documentary “SiCKO”, I render, certifiably insane, but he is nothing if not a true Christian; champion of the poor and unfortunate and the bane of the coldly unfeeling machinations of corporate greed.

But when the credits role on this baby, there is only one sicko remaining, and it is Michael Moore.

Here is the premise of “SiCKO”: We need to have an American health care system that caters to the whim of every whining poof in this country, and in the meantime, wrest its control away from evil pharmaceutical companies and voracious HMO’s while handing the whole kit-n-kaboodle over to the federal government, like in Great Britain, France and Canada, where all the infirmed are treated and no one is denied, doctors are rewarded monetarily based on performance, drug companies swoon, and respect for common decency trumps the hard-line of profit.

Without certain hidden sacrifices, this kind of utopian pabulum only works in the Hundred Acre Wood alongside the impenetrable spirit of Christopher Robin’s sweet and lovable pal, Pooh, but here on planet reality, and more specifically, the Untied States, it is bankruptcy personified.

For two hours “SiCKO” poses plenty of engaging and serious questions about the corruption of health care in this country, but in beseeching the heavens for change, never answers the most glaring one: Who will pay for it?

Assuming drugs and doctors don’t grow in the rabbit tunnels of Wonderland, problems abound.

Firstly, while France has the finest health care system in the western world, they have built it by raising taxes, halting wage increases, and cutting back on social programs. We have all seen what kind of manic furor these sacrifices incite around here. A quick research on Great Britain’s National Health Service reveals tons of bugs; long waits, limits to care, sub par doctor requirements, etc. These are quirks the British with their stiff-upper-lip culture permit. We have feebly quivering lips attached to people who love to sue here. And Canada? There have been a series of studies that reveal many under their system must get supplemental insurance to bolster questionable general coverage.

Let’s see: Pay higher taxes, give up our handouts, and still pay for additional coverage? You supply the joke here. I’m tired.

Let’s see: Pay higher taxes, give up our handouts, and still pay for additional coverage? You supply the joke here. I’m tired.

Moore spends an hour of his film lauding other nation’s superior health systems, but fails to broach the tax burden on the citizens, aside from two minutes chatting up one pleasant couple outside London, which reveals nothing. He sure doesn’t dare mention the enormous size, ill-health, and voraciously self-centered nature of our citizenry in comparison to these other proud but comparatively tinier, far healthier, and socialist-leaning countries. And he sure as hell, although he just finished one such film last time out, doesn’t broach the complete and utter dysfunction, corruption, and abject idiocy repeatedly portrayed by our federal government.

Face it; we’ve seen how this nifty government of ours has mishandled its only true task: Protect of our borders. In the last 10 years alone we’ve been invaded by millions of illegal aliens and had two major cities attacked by third-world bandits. And to combat this we’ve decided to absolve the illegal aliens and cram billions of dollars down a sinkhole called Homeland Security. Yeah, no thanks. If I have to pay exorbitant sums to keep the government’s gloved finger out of my asshole every year at my physical, I will.

Don’t get me wrong; Moore is dead on about insurance and pharmaceutical companies. They do not exist to aid, but profit. They are companies, not churches or charity groups or Friends of Jesus. They do not exist to pay out. They exist to hold on. This is economics 101. Simple mathematics. Human compassion and empathy have no place in business, and business, as with everything else, is the way of health care here in capitalist land.

Apparently this has been lost on Moore, whose opening quote in “SiCKO” is “I thought insurance companies existed to help people?” This is when you get the feeling the next Moore film will be about his disillusionment with the whole Tooth Fairy con.

Insurance companies are a rip-off. Of course they are. This is the case with all insurance companies. Just try and get them to honor their agreement. It’s a scam, and everyone knows it. It’s like professional wrestling or religion or diet pills or civil rights or seven dollars for a cup of coffee. It’s the American way. We buy into it in a kind of mass delusion. It’s comforting, like back when the school nurse told you that you were fine as blood gushed from your forehead. As Homer Simpson once philosophized, “It takes two to lie, one to lie and the other to listen.”

But despite the air-headed cries for equality, there are moments of truly brilliant satire in “SiCKO”: A Star Wars scroll, complete with soaring John Williams score, of the plethora of pre-existing ailments that allow insurance companies to deny you coverage, a tape of Tricky Dick selling us down the private-care river, a hilarious recording of a young Ronald Reagan spouting red-scare drivel to prevent a restructuring of our health care system, and a list of kickbacks from huge drug companies to members of congress, including our boy president and former HMO combatant and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The ending alone is a thing of beauty: Moore takes a group of ailing 9/11 volunteers rejected for care by the federal government on technical terms to Guantanamo Bay prison camp to receive the free health care provided to imprisoned terrorists.

But, alas, there is no practical answer for greed and fear and rip-offs in “SiCKO”. As everything we discuss in this space, Moore’s bogeyman, as in “Roger & Me”, “Bowling For Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” is systemic. So, instead of weeping at the unfortunates in Moore’s film, or dreaming of a day when people actually give a shit about each other, we offer this:

When you purchase insurance – health, home, car, whatever – make certain before you hand over your money and sign anything, that the insurance company provides, in clear and understandable language, a guarantee (in writing) of what you as a principle are entitled to, from that moment on. Insurance is a contract. Consider you are signing away your firstborn or a kidney, not purchasing gum from the corner store. You must make these bloodsuckers accountable at the time they take your cash, not when you request their cash, because if there is one usable aspect to “SiCKO” it is that if you deal with ruthless robber barons, you, in turn, must be ruthless.

Failing that, stash the money you piss away on health insurance and use it when your spleen explodes. Or find a political candidate who will stand on a platform to rid the federal government of useless pork like Homeland Security, NASA, Air Force One, Social Security, the Vice Presidency, and defer those monies into a National Health Care system that will only moderately drive our taxes up. Or, as we like to say here on planet Reality Check – “Ready Your Muskets!”

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The Nifong Chronicles

Aquarian Weekly 6/27/07 REALITY CHECK

THE NIFONG CHRONICLES

Mike NifongIn our continuing series on “The Law Is Bullshit”, fresh from our Paris Hilton harangue from a week ago, we cast our collective eye on the sad and sordid tale of Michael Nifong, former Durham County District Attorney of North Carolina. Nifong, as nicely put as possible, was over-zealous in his attempt at trying a dubious but celebrated rape case against three Duke University lacrosse players. The more apt description would be that Nifong is a self-promoting sociopath, who used blatantly dangerous race-bating and sacrificed the good name of three relatively innocent children, clogging up the courts, breaking the law, pissing on his and the reputation of North Carolina law, and wasting a boatload of taxpayer cash for his mad pursuit of fame and fortune.

Nifong is the “former” district attorney because he resigned last week during his ethics trial with a weepy soliloquy that would green the envy of any self-defacing thespian. Not surprisingly, the same doom-struck instincts that had him withholding, creating, hiding evidence or lack thereof and publicly humiliating his suspects in front of any camera pointing his way led him to figure that by blubbering like Jimmy Swaggart and resigning his post would keep him out of prison.

This is similar to you deliberately burning down your place of employment, and then in a desperate attempt to avoid arson charges, you quit.

But unfortunately Nifong isn’t going to prison for being stupid. This, like celebrities and the wealthy covered last week, is no crime. If it were, there wouldn’t be a continent large enough to store them. No, Nifong should go away because he is an insidiously aggressive drain on society at large. People who use our courts as an American Idol audition, especially those who represent said courts, need to be punished, severely; disbarment for starters, then maybe a crash-course in actual rape in lock-up.

Turns out Nifong never had a case. Never. About a week after their arrest, DNA tests exonerated the three suspects of any rape charges, and about a week or less later it pretty much turned out the stripper “victim” was as trustworthy a source on her own abduction as the latest spokesman for the Pentagon on the results of military surges. Which is not very good, or to be honest, fucking horrible.

Nifong should go away because he is an insidiously aggressive drain on society at large. People who use our courts as an American Idol audition, especially those who represent said courts, need to be punished, severely; disbarment for starters, then maybe a crash-course in actual rape in lock-up.

But on Nifong went, for months, evidence and credibility be damned, and on the Durham court system let him run. Why? Well, for starters it was a slam-dunk glitzy case: Three lily-white, rich, allegedly wild and wooly college boys with tarnished behavioral records ordered up a poor black woman forced to take off her clothes to make ends meet and had their way with her. Throw in the stressed racial tensions in the Durham area, ninety percent of which is comprised of poor minority communities surrounding one big, fat bucolic and smarmy Duke campus. And folks, you’ve got yourself juice.

Predictably, the 24-hour news stations, radio pundits, newspaper columnists, crazed activists, and you name it descended like vultures on the scene. Many of whom festooned the campus and surrounding areas with defaming and slanderous posters and manifestos calling the accused Nazis, sex fiends, Klansman, and monsters. All the while, Nifong and the courts kept the charade up, even when it was obvious to the most empty-headed TV talk show host that the thing was a hoax.

But, hey, as is our custom here, we don’t pin any collateral damage on the media. Sure, the 24-hour news channels and radio bilge-pumpers, even media whores like Jesse Jackson, who saw fit to ignore the time honored Bill of Rights adage and decided guilty until proven innocent was the fashion of the day, can be forgiven. The media exists for one reason, to sell beer and cars and dumb shit you don’t need, not to provide plausible information. For some reason people hold these outlets to higher standards, but even Jackson and his ilk have become such sad parodies by now, the lowest of standards is wasted on them.

Oh, and not shocking either, is the behavior of Duke University, so high and mighty and armed with condescending falderal, the powers that be folded like cheap boy scout tents and decided to cancel the remainder of the lacrosse team’s season. Yes, and then maybe everyone would forget the unconscionable lunacy these idiots had displayed publicly for months prior to the bogus charges. That behavior was tolerable, but being falsely accused is not. In other words, kids, as long as you keep your stripper gangbangs on the down low, then lacrosse yourselves silly.

So after months of complete torture and ridicule and jailing and laughable travesties of justice, the kids are set free and now get to sue everything and everyone in sight. So don’t cry for them. They will get there’s, again and again and again. No human with the last name of Evans, Finnerty or Seligman will ever have to suck ass to get in or pay outrageous tuition for their nifty Duke educations. That is if they want to slum at Duke. When they’re done suing the state of North Carolina, they can buy Harvard and Yale and turn them into competing strip joints.

And Lord knows I don’t need to see some muscle-headed 230-pound goon lacrosse jock asshole whimpering like a schoolgirl because his mommy thought he raped someone. No, it’s true. He did this. Until she heard the news mom was bursting with pride that her baby boy shattered the beer-funnel record while simultaneously snorting coke off the stripper’s tits.

Viva La System!

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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Free Paris Hilton

Aquarian Weekly 6/20/07 REALITY CHECK

FREE PARIS HILTON

TV is both beautiful and malignant, restricting reality to a small gray tube – we are spectators – metamorphosed from a mad body dancing on the hillside to a pair of eyes staring in the dark. – Jim Morrison

Paris HiltonParis Hilton is being railroaded. Period. She deserves to be in prison as much we do for putting her there. What the hell is the point of making a ton of cash in this god-forsaken society if you can’t get your wretched progeny off? If I’m a Hilton right now, I’m furious. This is a capitalist republic built on slush funds for the guilty, not a two-dimensional breeding ground for vindictive celebrity witch-hunts. If we put every rich asshole in prison for flouting our conventions we’d have none of them left, and then what would we aspire to? And what if we didn’t have celebrities? God forbid. Do we even exist without gawking at images of youth, money, beauty and its innocent stupidity to sustain us?

I think not.

Be careful what kind of icons you imprison. They reek of your worship and curiosity and their hides reveal many of your fingerprints. The law is bullshit. Anyone with money and celebrity gets off. The list is long, with its most renowned heroes being O.J. Simpson and Richard Nixon, both of whom should have rotted in jail, but did not. Simpson brutally massacred innocent people on a street in a major American city and Nixon tried like hell to obliterate the very fabric of this government. Paris Hilton? She is merely dim and famous – a dangerous combination.

Martha Stewart is dim and famous and look where it got her.

Paris Hilton is being crucified for a minor crime because she doesn’t appear real. She is an invention of television; a cartoon heiress, Internet slut, a party minx straight out of Melrose Place. She’s a soap opera villain, who weeps on cue. We want her to hurt. It makes us feel superior, or at least not inferior.

In reality, Hilton is merely a scapegoat for our outrage, like that vacuous uproar a few months back over a disc jockey’s mumbling gaff. “We’ve had it!” we shout, echoing the fabricated indignation of those sanctimonious hypocrites over at teenage-boy central, ESPN, who deride the abuses of hockey fights and macho taunting and the antics of dumb-ass jocks, while displaying them over and over and over and over and over.

We have made a messiah of cheap whores and goofs and then decry their notoriety. It’s Greek tragedy: “Who did these horrible things to me…? Oops, it was I!”

We love our victims, though. Our media-created victims especially. Shelley’s monster, like Michael Jackson. It’s enough we ogle him like a circus freak. His credit is good and his reach wide. He is either framed or predatory. Who cares? NEXT! Yes, and what about the culture urchins who brandish guns with posse thugs rambling though our underbelly beyond reproach, lauded for a violent nature infused in their veins since childhood. Ah, and the poor rock stars – in and out of rehab – phony martyrs with mawkish constitutions, begging for forgiveness from Jesus.

I’d take Jim Morrison any day. Jim went down like a man, gobbling ungodly fistfuls of hallucinogens with a preternatural glee; a real Neanderthal wit, our clown gypsy – jacking off on stage, calling his audience slaves and idiots. He knew the score. And he apologized for none of it. A true American original, an icon of substance.

Now we have front-page squalor of young millionaires drunk and loud, flashing their cunts into snapping cameras. What’s left? “THE TRIAL OF LINDSEY LOHAN – Guilty For Being 21 With Cash”. Who among us would be alive today with that type of scratch and celebrity? I wager none. I would have been a corpse by 1985 with half that chick’s cash.

I await the next Britney Spears meltdown, don’t you? This just in: Kids don’t meltdown, they’re confused jesters begging to be smacked (not physically, symbolically, we do not advocate hitting children – well, maybe Spears, but that’s it).

Truth is I dig Paris Hilton. She reminds me of immortality, strutting over the bones of the vanquished, sporting an impish shit-eating grin, as if she’s hiding Egyptian secrets. Our Boy President has that grin. He was also once damaged goods, but now his secrets come with big guns and consequences. His parents kept him from war and prison, so why can’t the Hiltons keep poor, misguided Paris from our vengeance?

Another truth is our prisons are over-crowded as it is. What part of society is this woman harming? Our sensibilities? Are you shitting me? Have you seen what you people love? What I love? It’s barely coherent. It’s sickening. It’s gorgeous in its wasted mirth. I marvel at our recycled pop sewage. It fills line and lines of this space weekly. Locking it up is no answer. I guess it’s an answer, just not THE answer.

I drank Saturday night with more dangerous outlaws than Paris Hilton, and I’m one of them.

That’s why I always say: Just give me the money, jack. You can keep fame. Fame is for suckers and suckers pay the freight.

Free Paris Hilton.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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Melissa Ferrick Interview

 

6/19/07

Melissa Ferrick InterviewUnedited TranscriptFrom Boston to The Desk 6/19/07

Melissa FerrickJames Campion: I usually start a songwriter interview with this one: Where are you at now? A good place, still? The reason I ask is the last record; “In The Eyes of Strangers”” reflects that you are or you were in a good place.

Melissa Ferrick: I’m not in the place the record reflects now, mainly because it came out in November and I wrote most of those songs, I guess, over maybe an eight month period before the record came out, but I would say I’m in a new place. It’s a great place, though. I’m having a great summer. The weather’s been good.

The reason I bring it up to begin is the record really does reflect a sort of “turned the corner” thing, whether its love or other personal relationships and an honest confrontation with inner turmoil, politics or social issues – all good song themes, by the way.

Yeah, I hope so. That sounds good (laughs). Certainly any time you turn a corner there’s other corners. It’s sort of how life goes. Once you clear an obstacle you get breathing room for a while and then there’s another one. But that’s what keeps it interesting.

I’m kind of at a crossroads of adulthood now. I turned 36 years-old and I’m saying good-bye to a lot of youthful things I held onto through the beginning of my thirties; that whole idea of new love, falling in love, going from one relationship to another over and over and over again has gotten boring to me now. That high doesn’t really interest me anymore. (laughs) So that’s kind of cool. And also sad at the same time. There’s a certain amount of sadness that goes along with realizing that you don’t get the same kind of jolt out of that behavior anymore. It’s like saying good-bye to an old friend.

That’s what I get out of the first song on the record, “Never Give up”, this idea of “settling in”. Some may consider the word, “settling” as a negative, but here it comes out as a positive.

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. That word “settling” can be used in two different ways, implying that you’re settling for less. But it also implies that you’re settling into a comfortable chair, which is how I was using it. Settling your feet into the ground. I play golf, so it’s like the way you settle your feet when you play golf, or you’re up at bat, the way you set into your stance. That’s more a positive than a negative, but you’re still getting your footing; “I want to get myself set into this, but not quite there yet.”

Right, if I can continue the sports analogy, it’s as if you’re settling into a sprinter’s stance, and in a sense starting to run into a new time in your life.

Yeah, definitely, but it takes a while to understand what you’re doing consciously. When I wrote “Never Give Up”, it was the summer of last year and I was at my sister’s house with the kids, my sister’s got three kids, and the older one was egging the younger five-year-old boy to dive into the deep end, and I was realizing how scary it can be when you first venture into the deep end of the pool and you want everyone to watch you. So you just give up and jump. You just have to jump in at some point. So, yeah, I was a lot better at taking those kinds of risks and doing those things when I was little. It’s just a matter of trying to regain that youthful fearlessness.

I was just writing an essay about that last month; the envy I have for the fearless nature of youth, and like you say, the very early stages of our development, unencumbered by the fear of experience. Experience is the death of fearlessness.

Right, exactly, yeah.

Would you say the country/folk style lends itself to this kind of reflective songwriting? Assuming it’s okay to label you country and/or folk.

Sure.

So do you think working in that genre lends itself to the act of being reflective or introspective, more than any other style of musical expression?

Yeah, I think it does. Although I always considered myself more of a rock and roll songwriter in the truest sense of the word, in the vein of…well, I always really loved Springsteen a lot, the early E Street Band stuff. I always considered myself to be that kind of songwriter. I don’t have a band, but I always envision my songs with a rock and roll band behind me; in that introspective “thinking rock and roller” vein, as opposed to the “screaming rock and roller” type; a blue-collar folk musician or songwriter rather than a white collar one. You know what I mean? (laughs)

I’m more apt to write from a place of introspection or reflection on how I’m feeling, or how my direct actions create a reaction.

I’m more apt to write from a place of introspection or reflection on how I’m feeling, or how my direct actions create a reaction. I normally tend to create reactions in my life, do things to create a reaction, whether it’s physical or emotional; talking with people or something in less than a quiet way. I’m not much of a quiet wanderer. (laughs) I like to interact with people and get them to talk, get them to tell me what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling as best they can; but in a way that’s not destructive to either them or me – so as to not drag them through the trenches of my life. (laughs) It’s kind of an interesting crossroad.

Glad you mentioned Springsteen. I recently watched one of the mid-seventies concerts with the E Street Band that’s out now on DVD. I must admit I grew up in Freehold, New Jersey, so I was inundated with the whole Bruce thing to the point where I rejected it. It wasn’t until college or even the last few years that I have come to respect this kind of beat poet thing he had going with the band, this kind of revival thing that people love about him. And I was reminded of it the one time I watched you perform. It’s there, with just you and the acoustic guitar, this revival, gospel sort of presentation.

Well, thanks, that’s really nice.

Certainly.

I just think the whole period of the late eighties, early nineties, when this barrage of “folk” music came out again, it was really a word they attached to female singer/songwriters, because there was such a lack of them happening in the eighties when we were inundated with The Cure, and The Smiths, and Jean Loves Jezebel, and things like that, which I love, I loved that music too, but it was just this era of pop music devoid of women voices. For me, really, that Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians record, Shooting Rubber Bands At The Stars, that was really the first experience for me, in my growth, in my high school years of hearing anything that didn’t have a synthesizer on it. And they called it folk because there was an acoustic guitar on the track. And then of course we have Suzanne Vega, and her first album is way more “folk” than the second, Solitude Standing. I mean “Luka”, the only thing folk about that song is there’s an acoustic guitar playing the lead part instead of an electric guitar. I don’t know, when I think of folk music and what it means I think more Alro Guthrie. I don’t even consider Joni Mitchell a folk artist either. Do you?

Not particularly. I always thought of her as more hippy music. (laughs)

Not that it’s a bad word, folk. It’s interesting though that it got transferred from these classic troubadour singer/songwriters, Woody Guthrie and Dylan and all those guys who were traveling around telling stories that they had heard or experienced, the transfer or the telling of stories, really. I don’t even know if rock and roll really exists anymore, and I really don’t understand why they attach the term “folk” to female singer/songwriters and not so much to guys.

I’ve spoken to Ani DiFranco about the same thing, this idea that a woman writer is being aggressive and nasty and attacking, when if it were a man it would be considered brave and edgy and whatever. It’s the same old stuff; proactive males are envied and the same quality in women is to be feared and shunned or mocked as in, “She’s a bitch.”

Right. Right.

It’s interesting you mentioned the term “troubadour”; Dan Bern and I always talk about that, this idea of the traveling poet to a commentator on life as it happens, and “folk” can go into that category as this idea that the songs are coming from the land or of the people. For instance the Irish folk music is so much fun to sing, so rousing, really a group purging, although they deal with grim subjects, they are so much fun to sing.

Yeah, totally. My friend Aram Kellem says they call it a chorus because everybody’s supposed to sing along.

(laughs)

(laughs) And I love that about folk music, that there is a sense of everybody knowing the story, everybody having their own personal attachment or life experience to the story you’re telling, whether it’s about your heartbreak or your breakfast in Demoines.

Mellisa FerrickThat’s what great about being a songwriter, you get to play these songs and have people sing along with them, and they know every word and they go, “I heard that song as I was traveling wherever”, or maybe, “I was going home to bury my dad,” really personal deep shit, or not even deep at all, like “I was riding my bike to the beach and someone’s car was parked there and your song was playing and I asked, ‘Who’s that?’ and the person says, ‘Melissa Ferrick’, and now here we are having a cup of coffee and how weird is that?’ But I tell them, it’s not weird, it’s life. It’s kismet. It’s supposed to happen. And that’s the invisible power of music as a spiritual connector. I truly love that about music.

It’s truly a catharsis.

Yeah, it’s a vehicle to meet people and to have common ground; the ultimate icebreaker.

Speaking of folk and folk singers, can you reveal the subject of “Come On Life”? The folksinger “who is out here stabbing”? I don’t know why but I assume it’s you. By the way, I wrote here in my notes, “It’s the best song written about ‘justified paranoia”. (laughs) So, am I correct in that assessment? And also, is that about someone in particular or is it about you?

That’s a very good question. It’s about both me and an actual thing that happened to me. But after I wrote the song I realized that I had done that to people in my life. So, that’s what I love about that song, that the listener doesn’t know, and therefore as a listener you can be either the one who’s been a backstabber and the one who’s been backstabbed. When I first wrote it and started playing it live I didn’t have the ending part, the last line; “There’s a singer out here and she’s stabbing.” That happened when I was playing it live in some city and I thought, that’s how to turn this around and have the audience think that maybe it’s me I’m singing about.

That’s true art when it’s malleable like that, not set in stone. It’s a wonderful song. Great imagery. You mentioned musical influences; do you have any specific literary ones?

You know, I’ve never been a big reader. Poetry mostly; Baudelaire, T.S. Eliot, Burroughs are probably my favorite poets. I used to read a lot of poetry in high school and college and studied a great deal of Jungian stuff in college. I went to Berkley College of Music, but all of my extra-curricular classes that I took were all in poetry and spirituality. So I learned a lot about Jung and the Krishna thing, Judaism and Christianity. I was always, and still am, intrigued by different religions and people who are religious in the truest sense of the word, you know? I think a lot of people consider themselves religious, but to actually have the kind of discipline it takes to practice a religion is intense.

I lived in Los Angeles for seven years above a Persian family who were very religious, by the book, and it was intense. I’d never seen that before. I grew up in a regular run-of-the-mill Catholic family, where you go to church on Sunday and that’s about it. And as I got older I went on the holidays. (laughs) There was no real discipline in my religious upbringing, so when I got to college, that kind of spirituality was something I wanted to study and get interested in, and also the types of people who are as disciplined about their religion as I am about the music, like horses with blinders on – a way of life, of touring and playing music and making records, and just doing this. You can transfer it to anyone who is obsessed with their work or with their way of life.

I’m loathed to promote my work during interviews, but you might dig my third book, Trailing Jesus. I spent a month in Israel and Jerusalem literally trailing the historical Jesus, and there’s a good deal in there about a similar path I was on driven by curiosity and spiritual pursuits beyond my equally pedestrian belief system.

Oh, wow.

Maybe I’ll throw you a copy when I see you.

Oh, yeah, cool, that’d be great. A friend of mine went to Jerusalem. She’s Jewish, her father was born in Israel, and she actually went to there for Chanukah, and she hadn’t been there since she was a kid, but she has family that was born there and live there. It’s so interesting, because she says her father doesn’t claim himself as Jewish, but Israeli.

Where did you grow up?

Ipswich, Massachusetts.

So you’re a New England girl.

Yeah.

Can you talk a little bit about your record company, or your self-producing, independence within the industry now?

Even when I was on a major label – I was on Atlantic for a couple of records – I didn’t have the quintessential classic horrific experience that people automatically assume I would have, and you have to remember this was ’93 to ’95, so it was right when grunge really hit and Liz Phair’s record came out, and to be completely, brutally honest, I made records that weren’t the right sounding records for that time. And that is the reality of being on a large label. It’s a huge business. It’s about making money. It’s not about supporting a growing, young songwriter. At the time, I thought I had found a home at Atlantic. I signed a seven-record deal, I thought I would be around for seven years, but “room to grow” on a label like that didn’t exist anymore. And for me it all started to happen in the nineties, when the music industry became this huge machine of making pop, real pop. After grunge hit, that was the end of record labels putting out songs. Even Liz’s record, which was a brilliant album, the next thing you know, it’s the Spice Girls, and it was over.

I would certainly love to have more of an artist community. It’s one of the things you lack being an independent, it breeds isolation, and that’s one of the problems I’m starting to see in my community. There’s all of these artists putting out records on their own and I can’t find any of them.

I certainly prefer putting a record out on my own label now. It started in 2000, and it’s what I needed to do, because I needed to put a record out and I couldn’t get a deal. I had been on an independent label and I realized that wasn’t making any sense financially, so I was like, “I’m just going to do this myself.”

Obviously, Ani is such a great example of what you can do on your own. She completely blew up and got huge from an independent perspective. And I started see Aimee Mann open up this United Musicians thing she’s got, hooking up with her friends Bob Mould and Michel Penn, and kind of making these little homes for independent artists and helping each other, I thought it was awesome.

Also, I think that the jam bands scene out of all that pop Britney, Back Street Boys and N’Sync insanity – Phish, MOE, and the String Cheese Incident – were putting records out, and getting in tour buses and doing festivals and not paying any attention to corporate music America, so I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve become pretty good friends with the guys in MOE, and I’ve gotten to jam with them a lot. I’ve been given the opportunity this year to play with Ani (DiFranco) a bunch, and that’s awesome, and Dan (Bern). And certainly, Dan has had his bouts with being on labels and whether he should be there, but Messenger Records has proven to be a really good home for him, that guy Brandon (Kessler) is a really good guy, you know?

Yup. He is.

He believes in Dan, and he believes in his talent, and I know Brandon is not just doing it to make money. I think that’s what it really comes down to. I would certainly love to have more of an artist community. It’s one of the things you lack being an independent, it breeds isolation, and that’s one of the problems I’m starting to see in my community. There’s all of these artists putting out records on their own and I can’t find any of them. (laughs) If we were all in the same agency, or if we networked better, and I think that’s something being on a label with other artists, or being at an agency with other artists that you are a fan of, I think that’s one of the things that can help.

I’ve been fortune enough to be with Fleming now for seven years and that’s how I got to play with Dan for the firs time, and that’s how I met Chris Whitley. There’s a number of people, Kelly Joe, Willie Porter, the list goes on and on. People I’ve never heard of – Rachel Davis, who I think is brilliant, Natalia Zuckerman, who is brilliant, there’s a bunch of artists on Fleming who are not as popular as a Kelly Joe Seltzer or Willie Porter or Dan Bern, but are all incredibly talented. So, that’s been a real home and a real community for me. It would be nice to be on a label that had other artists that I dug and I could get them to come hang out and play on my records or whatever.

It just takes a lot of work because you’re traveling and making records an making tee shirts and finding somebody to come travel with you for hardly any money and help you out on the road, and in the meantime you’re supposed to make friends with all the artists you love and admire, so that you guys can tour together and more people will be at your shows. (laughs) It takes time and it takes patience to do it independently. If there is anything that’s lacking in the DIY world it is community. As long as we stay aware of that and are willing to admit that, and as long as we work hard at build a community, even though it’s hard, I think we’ll be all right.

It reminds me of the United Artists concept with film at the beginning of the 20th century, this idea that all the people making the films should work together to create something meaningful, artistically and economically, and feed off each other and promote each other is quite a noble and productive idea. I wish they had that for writers, beyond unions and such, a community made up of artists. I would champion that, for sure. Is that something you have actively pursued recently, or has it just sort of dawned on you after it being there subconsciously?

The only way I’ve figured out how to do it is by sticking around. There’s got to be a way that it doesn’t takes seven years for other artists, because a lot of people wouldn’t give it seven years. They can’t afford it. They can’t live at their parent’s house and get someone to give them a credit card, play five college gigs so they can buy a car. They don’t think in terms of that. There are conferences like the Independent Music Coalition, which are a really great group of people.

I just think there’s more need for… it would be good if there was more than one conference like that. It would also be great if it didn’t cost hundreds of dollars to go to the conference. The people who need the help, once again, are the people who don’t have any money. They don’t have $250 to register. Somebody like me does have the $250, but…(laughs)

It’s this idea I’ve always had with record deals; they’re always backwards. You know, you’re a brand new artist; you don’t sell any records but you’re really fucking talented, then you should be making seventy percent of the record sales. (laughs) And when you’re an artist that moves fifty thousand copies maybe you should make forty percent of record sales. You give back sixty percent to the label or whomever you’re working with so that they can help the artist that doesn’t have any fans. Spend your money there. It’s so backwards. Rich people never pay for dinner and poor people don’t have any food.

I usually try and keep these things to a half hour, but I have two more questions for you.

Okay, yeah, sure.

I’d like to ask you one political question, if I could; and it might be touchy, but I know you have been open about your sexuality, and forthright in covering it in your work, so I wonder if you could comment on the subject of gay marriage, or the civil union issue that is, I believe, sadly misinterpreted and has gone way off the rational rails in this country.

Melissa FerrickSure. I don’t think the subject is touchy at all. I think the fact that people think it touchy is part of the problem. I think people should be allowed to marry whomever they want to marry. I think separation of church and state is at a huge crossroads here. I don’t really see too much separation these days with George Bush in office, and I think it’s really important to remember that the foundation of this country is people escaping a country because they couldn’t practice the religion they wanted to practice, so they said, “Let’s separate government and religion!” Even the abortion issue, at its crux, is an issue of religion and faith, and not whether or not it’s a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. And I think it’s the same with gay marriage. Mostly it’s the fear of white straight men, who are homophobic. They’re afraid of gay people. It’s fear. All fear based. If people would just live and let live more the whole world would be a better place. And that includes letting the “fear-based straight white guys’ live the way they want to live. I understand that much.

The whole “fear-based”, religious point is well taken, but here’s my point, and I’d like to get your feedback on this. I feel that’s all well and good, you can be afraid of whatever, you can debate it, like with abortion, when does life start or what is murder and what is the role of the state in mandating the personal, emotional, moral, and most importantly, physical actions of a citizen, but gay marriage is not even in that ballpark. It is a civil issue. This, to me, is a basic constitutional, Bill of Rights issue, which I believe would sink in the face of legal investigation and final decision.

This is why the Bush administration was trying to enact a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, to usurp the letter of the law and not make it a civil rights issue, to subvert the rational, legal argument by defining it as a union between a man and a woman and deny, amazingly, the rights of adult citizens to gain the advantages of civil unions, and not religious ceremonies, because they know they will lose.

This is the same argument opponents of granting women the right to vote used; “Well if you allow women to vote, they what’s next? Dogs? Lamps? Five-year olds?” Now they just say; “Two men or two women marrying? What’s next? A man marrying a cow? A woman marrying a two-year old?” These are ridiculous assumptions, as were postulated with the civil rights issues of the fifties: “We allow black and white children to sit on a bus together the very puritan fabric of our nation will crumble!” The religious issue, jamming it together with abortion, which is philosophical, eventually and cleverly clouds its true insidiousness: Denying basic freedoms to tax-paying citizens is a civil rights abuse.

What I remember in reading about it is they haven’t amended the constitution in a really long time, and they were actually going to do it to ban gays from marrying. So it’s unbelievable, to me, that everyone can’t see how fucked up that is.

Right. The difficulty in anyone seeing it the way you see it, which I totally agree with, is the fact that it brings up the issue of someone thinking about what it’s like to have a man having sex with another man. (laughs) It’s just that simple. And yeah, you’re right, it’s the same issue as women voting, or black people voting, or interracial marriage, equality.

You’re right, it’s a civil rights issue, and the fact that Bush wants to make it an amendment to the constitution in and of itself is so huge. I don’t remember the last time it was done. What I remember in reading about it is they haven’t amended the constitution in a really long time, and they were actually going to do it to ban gays from marrying. So it’s unbelievable, to me, that everyone can’t see how fucked up that is.

It is the most absurd issue. I hope five years from now, but I fear it will be twenty years from now, maybe thirty or forty, but people are going to laugh at this that way we do now at the way they mistreated women or minorities the way they did, or whomever they were trying to deny, laughably, the basic rights given to the citizenry of this country since its inception. It’s the same shit every friggin’ generation. It’s the same shit.

Yeah, I know. What’s the big deal? It’s such a big problem you’re going to amend the constitution? Is it that dire? I mean, what’s the divorce rate? (laughs)

(laughs) All true. One last one before you go: How do you like to write? Do you do so better at home or on the road, in a coffee house, in buses, in hotels? Do you get your best songs from observation or contemplation? Do you create better in a vacuum or in a swirl of events? Where do you get your material? What is the best way for Melissa Ferrick to practice her craft?

Best way for me is at home, just sitting in the living room with the computer on and the television on. I like to have a lot of stimulation. So, I usually have a TV on mute and a guitar lying around on the couch and I start. Certainly all the best songs come from absolutely nowhere, out of the blue, and you just write them. But I do notice that I usually right before I have a spurt, because I tend to write a lot and then I won’t write, I’m a little agitated or annoyed with something, something’s bothering me but I don’t know what it is, you know?

Sure.

And then usually a week or so after that I’ll write a bunch of songs and I’ll go; “Oh, that’s what it was! I guess I just needed to get words out of my head or emotions down on paper.” Whether or not they make any sense or even have anything to do with what was going on then, it’s just a release. I’m not really good at writing on the road. I have a hard time with that. I’ve never been very successful doing that, but I’m sure that I utilize all my life experience, or I hope I do, in the art that I make.

I think it all ends up out there. Sometimes more hidden than others, and most of the time it’s a good song if I don’t even realize what its really about. I like the songs that other people help me understand what they’re about, and then I’m like; “You know what? You’re right.” That’s kind of the experience I had with “Come On Life”, like after I sang that part and somebody asked if the song was about me because of the last line. And I said; “Oh, really?” Then I thought, it could be, and now that’s what I like about that song. So those are the ones I like the most, the ones I learn from.

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