Michael Moore & His “SiCKO” Utopia

Aquarian Weekly 7/4/07 REALITY CHECK


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!”

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Read More

The Nifong Chronicles

Aquarian Weekly 6/27/07 REALITY CHECK


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


Read More

Free Paris Hilton

Aquarian Weekly 6/20/07 REALITY CHECK


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


Read More

Melissa Ferrick Interview



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.


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.


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) 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.


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?


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.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

Articles | Books | Bio | Press | Sound Off | Recommended | Contact jc jamescampion.com is a proud member of the BLAZO!! network BLAZE inter.NET Designed & Hosted by BLAZE inter.NET

Read More

Independence ’08

Aquarian Weekly 6/13/07 REALITY CHECK


Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost. – John Quincy Adams

Al GoreNow that the Democratic-controlled Congress has scurried away with its collective tails tucked neatly between its legs and our Boy President has his hefty slaughter budget, perhaps the majority of the U.S. citizenry will see it clear to finally look outside the infinitely neutered two-party system for a chief executive. Polls indicate this is a distinct possibility. Of course, after the 2004 presidential election results anyone who views any poll as anything more than a hollow mind-screw can only blame themselves. But I dabble in politics here. And politics is silly with polls. Polls that mean even less than nothing 500 days from pay dirt with half the possible 2008 candidates still pussyfooting around Hollywood and the Bible Belt. Long way to go, buster. A long painful way.

But for the sake of fun and frolic, I give you the latest Gallup poll, which paints a split electorate: Republicans, 27 percent; Democrats, 34 percent; independents, 38 percent.

Anyone who has endured this nearly decade-long rave-clutter I send to press every week knows I’ve been ringing the “independent candidate” bell since 1980 when a young and smarmy jc headed to the voting booth and yanked a lever for John Anderson. Since, I have mostly voted for independents save a few vengeance votes thrown in to skew the bell curve. So, one might consider these recent poll numbers, however vacant they appear to my battered logic, bringing a measure of joy to a miserable shit like myself.


It’s a fixed game. The Electoral College is not set up for mavericks, outsiders, and alternatives. It is a system. And by definition it has its limitations and rules and restrictions, making it nearly impossible, no, sorry – impossible for anyone to bring about a systemic shift. Pat Buchanan told me this in 2000, Ralph Nader in 2004, and in way, although not as directly or grumpily, the humorlessly ill-fated 1992 Ross Perot campaign, which garnered 19 percent of the popular vote and yet not one Electoral notch, resounded it to the rafters.

Hell. No matter the freak-show, we aim to plug it, flaunt it, and vote for it. If you can’t beat it, dismantle it.

Meanwhile, we choose from the predictable pot. A pot which could become even more crowded if Al Gore and Fred Thompson listen to the hue and cry.

Sure. The potential candidate is always sexier than the fifty we already have to choose from. It’s the back-up quarterback theory: At any level, the guy starting and stinking makes the unknown commodity on the bench a blooming rose. The problem nearly always arises when everyone is sadly reminded why the back-up is a back-up.

Despite spending much of my waking hours in the wretched and unforgiving summer and autumn of 2000 bribing, spitting and penning for the downfall of the vice president, I invite Al Gore to run. For nothing else but to see the Clinton Machine, his former champions, slice and dice him to gory shreds. What would James Carville do then? What kind of rift would it cause? What measure of contemptible flotsam would it produce? Oh, the joys of big-time party politics.

Gore is this year’s white elephant, a Ted Kennedy-type specter hovering over the proceedings, playing the polls and the media, keeping his name alive for the last remnants of his fifteen vainglorious Tinseltown minutes. And although he reeks of defeat and sore-loserism, he is also a delicious choice for those who felt cheated by the 2000 Florida shenanigans and a prime cut candidate for those who bleed Clinton but realize that a woman has no chance to carry the South or Midwest, especially the key battleground states that John Kerry so flippantly pissed away.

But it’s easier to be the pundit, the specter, the back-up, as long as you don’t have to produce. And all of us awake enough to recall his first go-round do not wish that on the most hated of our enemies. Gore is better on the sidelines with windbags like Newt Gingrich, who are pithy and witty and full of grit as long as they don’t have to win anything anymore. That train left the station without them many moons ago. Their tickets have been punched. Nostalgia is one thing, but civic victory is a twisted bitch mistress with fangs.

Once bitten…

Fred Thompson? He’s a tease. An actor. This is a plus for presidents, especially conservative Republican presidents, but only those in the game; governors of big states, not has-been dilatants who abandoned Washington crying about boredom. But according to Politico.com, Thompson has already decided to run and will likely announce within the month, grabbing him a huge chunk of the pro-life, anti-gay contingent not hoarded by religious zealots and human asterisks. This is especially bad news for Mitt Romney, who was already a few weeks from tattered, and worse news for anyone not singing Thompson’s right-wing tunes come primary season.

Remaining are the independent teases, which now either land on those of the expanding pack of Democrats and Republicans who could pull a clever Joe Lieberman ruse or this rather interesting Internet fad called Unity ’08.

Basically Unity ’08 surmises a combined Republican/Democrat hybrid ticket matching together all the tired over-hyped agendas of these party dinosaurs to make it seem new, like these laughable attempts of slop-house fast food chains whipping up the odd “health food” menu to keep the watch-dog wolves at bay. The only truly interesting odd-couple combo would be this proposed rabid anti-war/global warming Bloomberg/Hagel ticket, for no other reason but that NYC’s mayor is a billionaire four times over and would saturate the political landscape with so much white noise neither entrenched party could escape unscathed.

Hell. No matter the freak-show, we aim to plug it, flaunt it, and vote for it. If you can’t beat it, dismantle it. This has been our raison d’etre here, and we see no reason to stop.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Read More

God Smotes Jerry Falwell

Aquarian Weekly 5/30/07


Falwell's JusticeEditor’s Note: We received a curious e-mail at The Desk around midnight on 5/16 from a giddy James Campion, who, lying in a champagne haze in his villa on the Amalfi Coast, had just been informed of the passing of Jerry Falwell on the BBC. It simply read – “Today there is proof there is a Living God, Creator of all things, great and small, protector of the weak and arbiter of ultimate judgment for the wicked. I know because I just received a telegram from Her. Make sure it makes Reality Check before the body’s cold. The world must know the truth! I am saved! Allah, or whatever, be praised!”

The following is what we received via Federal Express the next day. For reasons apparently only known to omniscient rulers of universes, g, as She likes to be addressed, writes in lower-case. This has lead the rest of us to believe e.e. cummings may have been some type of supernatural being, but that is for another column. Also, the thing came written in Portuguese, so take that how you would like. I can tell you, it was no joy ride translating it. There’s more than a little pressure that goes with interpreting the Lord’s commentary.

dear humanity,

sorry it took so long to ace jerry falwell. i’ve been kinda busy, what with eons of nonsense from the fifth galaxy and all these universes running disjointed from one another. who has time for the fun stuff, like striking down one of the truly grievous assholes ever to bi-pedal his way around a planet.

i wanted to begin by apologizing for all of falwell’s ridiculous hate-speak in my name. none of it is true. not a lick. he made it up. all of it, especially that goofy shit about me leveling judgment on 9/11. falwell was so full of crap even his name wasn’t falwell, it was fartknocker. but i guess it would be pretty hard to be taken seriously as reverend fartknocker, so he changed it.

so pretty much falwell was a lie, completely and consistently. he was the one who hated homosexuals and feminists and fornicators and pornographers and pro-choicers. not me. i don’t hate anyone. not even jerry. i make everything, right? without me, nothing. consequently, as a deity, i cannot stomach jack-offs running down my creations. this is why jerry had to go, eventually. i just never got around to it.

i bet your asking right now, “why doesn’t she smote osama bin laden or kim jong il or rosie o’donnell? a fair question, but one i don’t have to answer because i am all knowing and all powerful, and most of all, mysterious. i work in mysterious ways. you ever hear that bit? that one is true.

but back to falwell. creatures like this really burn me up. they’re always going on and on about what i say and what i stand for, but what it really comes down to is all that stuff is their own agenda, heaved on me so they don’t have to be guilty about shaming others or judging others or feeling superior to everyone. guilt, by the way, is also my fault. but it’s a necessary evil. believe me when i tell you, you guys need it. earth is fucked up enough. could you imagine if no one felt badly about it? jesus. oh, and speaking of jesus, i didn’t kill him or ask him to die or anything like that. that’s more ego bullshit from guilt-mongers, but i digress.

i must also apologize to jerry’s followers. i am sincerely sorry he was a lier and a con man and an insecure weasel. you may as well move onto believing in something else. try scientology. i dig that one. it’s as good as any of the other junk, just without all the land grabs, suicide bombers, and funny costumes, and you get to hang with celebrities. by the way, i approve of all religions, and most horse racing results, also the fact that the smartest man in the universe is bound to a wheel chair, and that most evil fuckers have all the money. why not? makes for interesting theater where I come from. life ain’t fair. maybe you heard that one too.

look, i’m not really one for getting involved with you people. the flood thing was the last of it. i got a lot of guff for that one. so, sue me. it was a knee-jerk reaction. i was pissed. didn’t you ever fly off the handle and regret it? but you ain’t god, so no one notices. but every once in a great while I need to get involved, and i thought it was good a time as any to set things straight with falwell. oh, and i would be worried if you were pat robertson or any of these other poser do-good pansy-ass dipshit preacher types. i might do a whole sweep come september. anyway, that’s my deadline.

okay, I gotta go. so keep screwing each other over and fucking up the planet. we have a pool over here in the nether regions of the galaxy. we’re pretty sure you guys will go belly up first. i’ve got the year 3048. of course everyone thinks it’s fixed since i see all and know all and stuff. but who’s gonna argue? i’m the big cheese.

go in peace, or something or other

– g

ps – by the way, satan says hi.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

Read More

Frat House Fracas

Aquarian Weekly 5/16/07 REALITY CHECK

FRAT HOUSE FRACASA Month Of Peeling Back White House Mayhem

George TenetHave you left me the lastOf the dum dum daze Then the sun goes down And the boys broke down– Iggy Pop

This is truly a country run by lunatics.

It is the only explanation.

The days of discussing the evil intent of the body politic, the corruption of power, and the insidious nature birthed by the grievous land-baron history of this great but flawed republic are finally buried beneath an avalanche of Herculean incompetence. It’s official. The Bush Administration rivals the most dysfunctional parade of rogues ever to tread the halls of this government. No small feat when considering some of the scabrous cretins to hold this nation’s most cherished titles. In one month, give or take, the house of cards held together by the flimsiest of shreds has tumbled down in an almost humorous heap on the head of our flatlined Boy President.

Let’s start with this nonsense surrounding embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who has spent weeks awkwardly defending himself and the justice department against flaccid charges of political intrigue, when all he had to do was tell congress to fuck off. What kind of lawyer is this idiot? What is he hiding? Agenda? Agendas make up the whole of Washington. No one goes to the toilet without ulterior motives in DC. Presidents have absolute power over the federal government’s law officers. He can fire one for denting his car. No explanation necessary.

For reasons only known to those in charge, Gonzales is on trial for defending the administration’s honor. Honor? Again, I ask, what kind of lawyer is this jack ass? Just because he kept Bush from political oblivion in Texas by hiding a goofy DWI does not make him attorney general of save-face. Forget what you think of the spirit of the law or political agendas, you want the head of your nation’s justice department acting like a sixteen year-old girl with a pocket-book full of speed and condoms jabbering out cheap excuses about holding them for friends?

Gonzales is so pathetic under cross-examination he makes his predecessor, John Ashcroft, a vapid troll who once lost a Missouri senate election to a corpse, look like Honest Abe.

Bush was the mediocre elite’s last shot at greatness. He was our boozehound coke fiend C-student who would run America like a Texas ho-down. It was to be a freewheel, but then he mucked it up by bringing in his daddy’s has-beens, recycled fossils who saw one last chance at the brass ring.

On the heels of this freak show another Bush reject, Paul Wolfowitz, head of the World Bank, whose dim-witted fantasies fueled the ill-conceived Iraq invasion, is busted handing over a cushy job and a huge pay hike to the woman he’s currently screwing. Soon he will join the growing list of administration boobs who were forced to resign as miserable failures.

Fast forward to former CIA Director George Tenet and his laughably exploitive tales of woe and finger pointing in At The Center Of The Storm, wherein the author comes off as a holy amalgamation of Saint Paul meets Gunga Din. But as with all fiction there’s a core of truth within, one that has been echoed in this space for nearly seven years now: Stupidity and hubris out duels fiendish scheming every time in Bushland.

True, Tenet is as gutless and wormy as Richard Clarke, who also claimed to know and warn and bellow everything known to modern souls only to continue to cull a government pay check while remaining silent until booted. If there is such a thing as guilt, it falls on him, as it falls on the others who not only bungled everything since 9/11, but the months leading up to it.

Again, as written here mere days after the towers went down, of course Bush and Rice and Cheney and Powell and the CIA and the FBI knew about a potential attack on a major American city. They fucked up. Big time. Blood is all over these people, and that’s how the job goes. Run a nation, nation is attacked, you’re to blame. No matter how many countries you bomb. Plenty of blame, jack. But once again these petty smear campaigns and the endless back-biting childishness is a glaring reflection on how things are running and have been run around here – like some soused frat house bungle wretched with blind cronyism and kegs flying through windows, bad boys dick-fighting and puffing chests, stumbling around hallowed halls fist-fucking the constitution.

And it’s too bad.

Bush was the mediocre elite’s last shot at greatness. He was our boozehound coke fiend C-student who would run America like a Texas ho-down. It was to be a freewheel, but then he mucked it up by bringing in his daddy’s has-beens, recycled fossils who saw one last chance at the brass ring. Not a one of them could keep from dragging our hero and his puppeteer, Karl Rove down with them.

I was rooting for Rove. I was. He helped defeat one of the vilest of human diseases, Al Gore, by cheating and stealing everything this country claimed to hold dear. It was a thing of brutal beauty, half-mad, half-genius. Rove was as close to invincible as a democracy could hope to produce; a chronic masturbator with a weakness for jellow-shots and The Stooges’ “Raw Power” on vinyl, but someone mistook him for an intellect and gave him the keys to the president’s brain, which he recklessly commandeered into disaster.

Now Bush’s approval ratings flounder somewhere in the mid-20s, close to a Watergate low. Stunning, even for a monumental screw up. His war is now officially a suicide anvil roped around his neck and Jesus has abandoned him. He no longer speaks in private anymore, at least not anything close to coherent. In public he manages to burp out weird things like “internets” and some Seussian nonsense about “Victory is not no violence.” Insiders say he lives in constant fear there’s another Scooter Libby stumbling drunk and angry through the White House looking to dump more foul odors on his office. Key aids are on 24-hour notice to keep him informed if the vice president shoots anyone else.

And no one who used to make decisions around the man has a clue why the Secretary of State is running around Syria trying to get warlords to put the hammer down in Iraq. Talk is she missed a sign or is bunting on her own, because it’s madness-squared and will put us in further debt to religious goons, the very reason we’re in this shit storm in the first place.

Hey, laugh if you wish. I know I’m laughing. You can’t make this stuff up. Believe me, I try. Every day. But it pales. Nothing comes close to this mania. Nothing.

I’ve got it on pretty good authority that the president’s dog has been appointed Secretary of the Interior.

Tell me you think that’s a joke.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Read More

“Exile On Main St.” Turns 35


Aquarian Weekly 5/9/07

Exile On Main St.” Turns 35 This Week

I gave you diamonds, you give me disease.

Mick & KeithOn May 12, nineteen hundred and seventy-two, the greatest rock and roll album by the greatest rock and roll band, smack dab in the middle of the genre’s golden age, hit the streets. Recorded in a fog of mystic fumes, bad vibes, drug hysteria, bohemian hedonism, and sweltering temperatures in the dank and foreboding basement of a 19th century French villa called Nellcote, Exile On Main St. emerged raunchy, raucous and anguished. Every track reeks of dangerous liaisons, broken spirits, fueled aggression, outsider longing, and outlandish mischievousness. It perfectly captures a period of decadence and revelry unlike anything of its time. It is the sonic version of The Great Gatsby or The Grapes Of Wrath; Mick Jagger as Jay Gatsby and Keith Richards as Tom Joad, setting to music the final toll of sixties fallout and the harkening of a baby boomer dirge.

The previous summer the Rolling Stones left England en masse as tax exiles to settle in Villefranche-sur-Mer with seemingly no plan, no songs, and no semblance of boundaries, even for them. Richards, the band’s unquestioned musical leader, was a full-blown heroin addict whose outlaw antics was fast becoming the stuff of legend. Jagger, beginning a second career as jet-setting celebrity, had just married Nicaraguan beauty Bianca Perez Morena de Macias beneath a spectacular crush of media. The band was a mere two years removed from burying their founder, Brian Jones, who’d died mysteriously in the pool at his home, and even less than that from Altamont, the disastrous free concert in San Francisco which ended in mayhem and murder.

Honey, got no money, I’m all sixes and sevens and nines.

So, the most powerful rock band left standing (the Beatles were gone, Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison had died within the year) packed up to live in a cavernous mansion once inhabited by the Gestapo in World War II with a lunatic junky, his crazed witch of a de facto wife, Anita Pallenberg (many claimed she could actually cast spells) and an astonishing lineup of freaks, weirdos, bandits, bikers, and pop royalty (John Lennon puked all over the place in an LSD frenzy) to create a timeless classic. These sordid weeks of car-wreck creation are recalled darkly and amusingly by author/journalist, Robert Greenfield in his revealing new book, Exile On Main St. – A Season In Hell With The Rolling Stones.

“The Stones were so far in front of the culture when ‘Exile’ came out most people just didn’t get it because it was such a disjunctive leap,” Greenfield told me this week. “The reason it’s so brilliant is that they’re not just in physical exile, they’re in psychic exile, and what the album is saying to people who weren’t there yet is ‘you’re all about to be dispossessed, the culture is about to throw you out, really grim times are coming’, and because they got there early they already know the outlaw counterculture is finished, rock and roll as a statement of social protest is at an end, and they’re recording the transition.”

Kick me like you’ve kicked before, I can’t even feel the pain no more.

It is a postcard from oblivion, a great rock band in its prime doing what great rock bands do. The sloppiness is there. The passion is there. The black arts, flesh-ripping, throat-clearing fury is all there – pure, raw, gutsy, balls-out grunge.

Therein lies what separates “Exile” from just any other classic rock album; it quite literally puts on tape the soul of a band, and in this case, the band. Emotions are not just hinted at or broached with expression, but gushed about, thrown around, poured out furiously through amps and bass drum kicks and cockneyed wails, ripping leads, blasting horns, groaning harps, and seedy honky tonk piano. Where fear and paranoia is needed, it reverberates from our speakers, when loneliness is expressed, the listener is not cheated. And when the boogie hits the road, there is magic, real magic in the performance. It is a postcard from oblivion, a great rock band in its prime doing what great rock bands do. The sloppiness is there. The passion is there. The black arts, flesh-ripping, throat-clearing fury is all there – pure, raw, gutsy, balls-out grunge.

“I think it’s safe to say nobody will ever make another album the way the Stones made ‘Exile'”, Greenfield recalls. “To jam for hours, night after night, without songs or ideas; ‘Let me get a riff going,’ Keith would say. They were truly artists going out there on their art without limits.”

Soul survivor, you’re gonna be the death of me.

Originally released as a double-album (yes, kids, albums) with four sides of distinction – funky gives way to country, then into blues and gospel, and then all-out rocking. Exile is everything the Stones did well to imitate, negotiate and discover all in one wonderfully jumbled package. It is one, I have often said, for the time capsule. Why are the Rolling Stones so great? My answer has always been Exile On Main St.

“Having been there when they recorded it, and watching them mix it, I can say that the music in Exile very much comes from the place where it was created,” Greenfield adds. “The villa was not just a house, it was some kind of a cauldron, a mixing bowl where lives were turned around. It was as if all these people were trapped together on another planet. As one of the other inhabitants of Nellcote has told me since, ‘The Seventies began in that place'”.

I’m the man that brings you roses when you ain’t got none.

There have been other more hit-laden, influential, and traditional Stones records. Many more. But there was never a better one. Aside from the infectiously groove-maddened “Tumbling Dice” or the explosively whiskey-smoked “Happy”, none of the remaining eighteen tracks has survived the band’s decades of concert tours. This is probably why Exile has grown in stature over the years; it is not overplayed, gutted for hits, or genuflected to like Sgt. Pepper’s or Dark Side Of The Moon. Yet it consistently makes the laughingly sanctimonious glut of annual Top Ten lists and is accepted without much argument among critics and rock historians as the finest of pure rock collections.

His coat is torn and frayed, it’s seen much better days. Just as long as the guitar plays, let it steal your heart away.

“The Stones never make another great album after Exile,” Greenfield concludes. “They make great songs, but nothing like this. It was the end of an era.”

In more ways than one.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

Read More

Kurt Vonnegut – 1922-2007


Aquarian Weekly 5/2/07

KURT VONNEGUT, JR. – 1922-2007

All this happened, more or less. – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Slaughterhouse Five

Kurt VonnegutThe greatest living American author is no more. Who’s left? Salinger? That’s about it. In the last few years we’ve lost the liberator, Kesey, the hammer, Thompson, and now the conscience, Vonnegut. What is left us, Mailer? Please. Wolfe? Nah. Vidal. Nope.

I know I’ve lived too long now. I hate aging. It slowly brings to an end everything left to believe in. There, I said it. I believed in Kurt Vonnegut. I wanted him to be immortal. Yeah, I did. It’s silly. But there are far sillier things to believe in. I use this space weekly to decry them. This ain’t one of them.

I suppose when I heard the patron saint of humorists, our Mark Twain, our flatline realist, our goofy satirist, our voice of reason crying in the wilderness had left the mortal coil, I thought of Slaughterhouse Five. Who didn’t? But for me it represented a first. It was the first true novel I ever read. And it moved me like nothing else, save maybe a few Who songs and a movie or two. Firsts have a way of doing this: First love, first car, first ass kicking, first success, first failure. The written word as epiphany. “So it goes.” It said. “Poo-tee-weet” it said. This was wisdom best heeded by youth when you could still change things, or at the very least believe you could still change things.

This is what Vonnegut taught me: Even if you can’t shift consciousness, make sure you record the nonsense before it fades from memory: the horrors and inequities and petty human frailties, the feral meanness that runs free in our blood.

I liked the idea that Vonnegut was still breathing because he never gave up being a cockeyed pessimist. He was good at dualities because he said over and over “Think for yourself.” He never left a building without conveying that.

I liked the idea that Vonnegut was still breathing because he never gave up being a cockeyed pessimist. He was good at dualities because he said over and over “Think for yourself.” He never left a building without conveying that. And he never let a day go by without living up to the living embodiment of the phrase. Vonnegut was good to us because he shared his complexity. He did not hoard it like a monk. He shared it. No tourniquet needed. Let it bleed, as the Stones once sang.

Vonnegut echoed what my mother had spent my formative years paining to impart: The only people invisible in this world are those who allow destiny to kidnap them. This is the falsehood of existence, that we are cursed or blessed or blindsided or handed labels and stations and fates. It is a lie easily punctured, a ridiculous crime perpetuated on us without individuality, without promise, without grit and without pride.

All that Rand bullshit that took thousands of words in The Fountainhead to decipher, Vonnegut managed to unfold in quick-witted sentences with a laugh included. The long diatribe about self-worth and freedom from the fold jam-packed with engagingly damaged characters making a mockery of “decent society” and “cultural mores” and the “prison of conformity”.

From Billy Pilgrim to Kilgore Trout there is a wonderful absurdity to Vonnegut’s humanity. And why not? He considered himself a Humanist. Sometimes we put a busload of fate in subjects that are flawed and weak and terrified, so we can’t help putting our faith in words. Sometimes it’s all that’s left us. Separates us from the animals. Sometimes it puts us right next door. Most times right inside.

Vonnegut’s best books, Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater put you inside the animal/human, and make you feel his/her confusion, pain, joy, and still more confusion. His best characters have a floating sort of feeling, but not surface floating, submerged. It’s the kind of daily drowning that makes us gasp for air, makes us wonder what’s above the surface, like heaven or aliens or universes piled upon universes, and in its wake how we’re so insignificant and randomly forgotten if not for each other.

And that’s why when Vonnegut returned from the horrors of the Second World War, he had no choice but to get to the bottom of the animal/human and down to the study of existing in impossible surroundings – waves crashing, the undertow pulling us downward. Then, unexpectedly, hope. Weirdly so, as if seeing a horse dealing blackjack or a three-headed waitress serving you coffee. Hope, appearing out of the carnage of our torment. Hope as a bird, a sunset, a child’s laugh, the bending of time.

Hope as a word.

Vonnegut, as all great writers, wrote because he had the need. And it’s that need that appears on every page of his best work, a desperate plea to the author or authors of this absurd waltz of life. My favorite of his quotes, and one I used at the heading of my only finished novel to date, is “In nonsense is strength.” Oh, yes. It says nothing and so much all at once. To live, to hope, to dream, to shoulder on, one must find strength in the meaningless random ballet. The alternate route lies madness.

Yes, I believed in Kurt Vonnegut.

He was America’s greatest living author. Unfortunately it is a title which demands existence.

Now what?

“So it goes.”


Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

Read More

NBC Airing Virginia Tech Killer

quarian Weekly 4/25/07 REALITY CHECK

NBC & THE NETWORK RUBBER NECK The Virginia Tech Killer’s 15 Minutes Of Infamy

Peacock PeddlerRandom violence is really interesting. Especially epic slayings by lone nuts for no fathomable reason. Big ratings. Big talk. Big headlines. Big reasoning. Tons of that. Why? How? All the silly incomprehensible psychobabble getting to the bottom of nothing. Sure it’s scary. There are badly wired humans everywhere. At any moment they go off the rails and things get broken and people get hurt. This happened at Virginia Tech last week. Horrible stuff. Can’t be explained, like hurricanes and earthquakes and Nazis.

I’m fascinated by it. So are you. Of course you are. Repulsed? Sure. Frightened? Perhaps. But mostly fascinated. Glued to the gory details, the fallout, the grieving, and the endless lists of possible motives. I’m not particularly surprised, but then again I believe just slightly less than half of our populace is capable of crazy random shit. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often. Maybe not 32 massacred kids in a relatively mellow bucolic college campus, but you know what I’m getting at.

And you know who’s banking on our fascination with this? The media: network television, cable stations, newspapers, radio, you name it. Nothing new here. That’s what they’re here for. Tragedy is party time for news geeks. None will admit to it in public, but they all do the hula victory dance every time feces hits the fan somewhere, in the bullpens and pressrooms, and especially at corporate headquarters. I’ve been there, Jack. Oh, it’s mass orgasm, believe it.

You think I’m being Mr. Bad Ass Cynic again? Well, maybe you’re right. But as evidence I present the airing of the Virginia Tech killer’s mailed video/print/digital photo manifesto this week.

The purpose of all media, no matter how much the talent or producers or fans think their special slice of it changes lives, advances society, or shifts politics. It is show biz, period.

The National Broadcasting Company won the sweepstakes on this puppy, as they did with the Imus flak, since they were the first to sack his sorry ass and then unconscionably lead the evening network news broadcast with ten (Ten!) uninterrupted minutes of racist hysteria last week. Unconscionable unless of course we keep our eyes focused on the aim and purpose of everything media: Ratings Equals Cash.

Maniac sends multi-media diatribe to major news organization before slaughtering innocents.

This is the Holy Grail for those profiting on news broadcasts.

Hey, maybe the murderer was tuning in as Brian Williams was gushing trumped-up show biz empathy all over the Rutgers girls basketball team last week. Figures here’s a sucker who will make me, a lonely, lunatic misanthropic jag-off famous. Hey, it’s as good as the video game, bullied, victim of a sick culture, gun-happy theories.

Okay, so back to Ratings Equals Cash.

I must go on record as stating that I have no problem with this. It is a sound business axiom like Profit Is God, Downsizing Is Good For The Soul, and Fuck The Public.

NBC News exists to sell time. The purpose of all media, no matter how much the talent or producers or fans think their special slice of it changes lives, advances society, or shifts politics. It is show biz, period. And this is not a new phenomenon. No, sir. This goes back as far as jogging Greek messengers who were wacked for unpopular presentation. Got to feed the audience, buster. W.R. Hearst knew it. He was an onerous mutant and a great newspaper mogul, and the main reason he once owned 80% of the mass media in this country. Now it’s more like six mega-conglomerates controlling all of this country’s mainstream media, and they know damn well the shit you will eat, and you will gorge, my friends, you will gorge.

No, reporting the news as entertainment is not the issue here. I love it. Keep it coming.

My gut-churning disdain begins with the smarmy, apologetic, touchy-feely rhetoric being spewed by dime-store barkers like Williams and his ilk as they roll out the dung. Give us some credit. We know we’re slowing down to see the gruesome car accident, a mass rubber necking. We don’t need the laughably affected facial expressions of remorse and stilted voicing, fidgeting shoulders and slight dips of the head.

“I’m sorry folks, it’s so sad and heart-wrenching, but here’s the crazy guy!”

The whole thing is fabricated and insulting and patently false in the most insidious way. Just play the damn tape of the psycho rambling on about being ostracized and emotionally wounded and spewing the same tired falderal made famous by the usual Chuck Manson wannabees. I would respect these assholes so much more if they would just be honest: “Here is some sick stuff, you’re going to be horrified and sickened and won’t be able to turn away, then let’s get right to the cheery Sally Field pharmaceutical ad.”

What is the difference between this and the exploitation of the Elephant Man?

What is the difference between this and Britney Spears tantrum updates?

Then the president of NBC or some other bloodsucking corporate suckfish comes on MSNBC later accompanied by Williams to “explain” the need for true journalistic integrity in accepting the package and waiting two (Two!) hours to alert authorities – two hours to dupe tapes, make copies of the photos and comb over reams of gibberish. Two hours to get the campaign ramped up, slap “NBC Exclusive” tags on every photo and every second of amateur YOU TUBE video.

And this on the heels of NBC acting all sanctimonious last week in the wake of Shock Jock Crucifixion. So what’s more offensive, I ask you: Name Calling 101 or airing the meanderings of a mass murderer 48 hours after the tragedy?

I don’t find either offensive, but apparently this is a hot topic right now and I figure since everyone is so up in arms and sensitive to public decorum and decency, where do we go on this one?

Oh, and by the way, NBC eventually got around to the real story, why the local authorities and college security allowed an armed and dangerous killer to put together a promo package, go to the post office, leisurely stroll around campus armed to the teeth and eventually butcher 31 additional students over a three-hour window.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Read More