George Bush War Lies

Aquarian Weekly 7/23/03 REALITY CHECK


The President of the United States lied to the American people about the extent of an enemy threat to our borders to perpetuate a war. And so now George W. Bush joins every other man who has held his office while faced with the same stretch of history. Look it up. I only have so much space.

And that last line is specially packaged for those of you who think that a thousand words on a jabbering cunt like Ann Coulter was not enough. Some of you assume I had to fill forty pages with a lecture on American history to educate the masses on the crimes of McCarthyism.

Fuck off.

Put down the video game and turn off the porn for five minutes and read a goddamn book.

It is a moral imperative. Fish swim. Trees grow. Governments lie before, during, and most definitely after war.

Let’s face it; you need history lessons from me like you need MTV babysitting your kids.

Of course the White House and the CIA, and whatever else culling a paycheck from your taxes to keep this government running lied to you about the war. That is what they do. That is what they have always done. And not just this government, but governments across the globe for eons.

You don’t like it, chief? Ready your muskets.

But I would give that some serious thought. I too believed in anarchy once, but that was before I enjoyed the trappings of running water, utilities, traffic lights and civil servants to summon when the crazed neighbor starts shooting off his baby canon over the lake at midnight.

But I digress.

Sure the government lied, the media lied, I lied. This is what happens during war, Churchill and all that “first casualty” stuff. It is a moral imperative. Fish swim. Trees grow. Governments lie before, during, and most definitely after war.

Where the fuck have you been?

Are we only dealing with dumbstruck hippies, Madison Avenue shrills and Bible waving freakazoids now? Is that all that is left us?

Those of us in the trenches see things far more clearly. We examine Paul Simon’s writings “on the subway walls”, and you can damn well be sure we keep our ears peeled for the sounds of silence. And those sounds could not give a fairy fart whether George Walker Bush tells Congress he invented Scrabble or composed the Star Spangled Banner. Down here in the mud, you learn to forgive mouthpieces for the flawed machine. It’s a tough ride, like that yawping loon straddling the A-Bomb at the end of that Kubric film.

You think this president could ever tell you anything binding about uranium in Africa? This is a man who’s own campaign czars tried to keep out of foreign policy debates like it was political cyanide for sixteen months of stumping.

In the face of that, I think the man’s done a pretty good job on the foreign stage. He was only in office for nine months when New York City burned. What did he know? He must have gotten bad intelligence for that one too.

Sure, the world thinks us half-mad, arrogant warmongers, but that was long before Captain Shoe-In got the key to the missile silos.

Iraq was Daddy’s fault. Everyone knew that. The other George Bush has to take the hit for irking those maniacs, with an assist from the Sleeping Clinton Brigade, who thought it wise to pussyfoot with homicidal goons for eight years.

The festering boil of the Arabian Sea had to go. Period. Who cares why anymore?

What those of us in manning the front lines do care about is this horrific budget deficit, escalated now to an historic level of $450 billion and rising 50% higher than estimated last Christmas, and the piss-poor abortion of an economy that the current administration has stood watch over for nearly three years now.

There is something for your outrage. Why don’t you crank up some of the righteous indignation over that nugget?

Lying about war? That’s a given.

Weapons of mass destruction? Maybe. Maybe not.

That’s a debate for those who believe continued negotiating with murderous thugs and suicidal fanatics makes sense. The trench dwellers don’t. And neither do the sounds.

There are clear reasons why Saddam Hussein was in uniform for every picture and video you saw of him. He was a soldier, a fighting man, and he wanted to fight. Our president wears a suit. He can’t get dirty with that kind of nonsense. He’s the CEO of America Enterprises, and right now its going belly up.

The executive branch of the current system we employ here in America has to answer for two things eventually; domestic policy and the strength of the economy. This is not always fair, but it is fact. Look that up too, junior. And what is left of ours will likely decide his reelection, and seal his legacy.

Right now it is in the shit can and my pal Georgetown tells me many steadfast conservative Republicans in Congress think the Bush people have gone around the bend in spending, and no one inside the Beltway has the slightest idea what kind of financial strain rebuilding Iraq and funding Tom Ridge’s folly will do to cripple the nation in the next twelve months.

And these are key months for a first term president planning on keeping the gig.

But the rat pack the Democrats are lining up for slaughter right now couldn’t best Hermann Goering in a race for dogcatcher. And that is not particularly good for the national debate or a balanced election, no matter what side of the infernal fence you reside.

But make no mistake, riling up the troops for battle with anything from questionable innuendo to bold faced lies is a president’s duty.

This is not news.

As usual, it is nothing more than a minor distraction from real problems.

Sounds of Silence, indeed.

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Ann Coulter: Champion of the Dumb

Aquarian Weekly 7/2/03 REALITY CHECK


For those who merely get their junk food media jones from Reality TV or Eminem or video game violence, you are missing one of the great purveyors of grandiose stupidity on the market today; Ann Coulter. Noted author, and celebrated carnival barker; Coulter is the living embodiment of modern pop culture genius, well-dressed freak show merchants masquerading their commentary with bombastic rhetoric, mixed daringly with a waft of jingoistic perfume.

I worship her beatific vision.

Coulter’s efforts are noble and sound. She knows well the avenue of history has long been open for armchair revisionists to sidle up to the microphone and trump hyperbolic issues and hot-button names in an ostentatious peddling of merchandise. Having pitched a book for the past few months, I bow to her prescient supremacy.

Mostly, Coulter is a wonderful siren for our greatest attributes, the inability to understand rudimentary ideas beyond our own prejudiced hallucinations. No other social or political essayist possesses more of a keen eye for P.T. Barnum’s vast audience of ravenous lap dogs in the American heart.

Coulter is a wonderful siren for our greatest attributes, the inability to understand rudimentary ideas beyond our own prejudiced hallucinations. No other social or political essayist possesses more of a keen eye for P.T. Barnum’s vast audience of ravenous lap dogs in the American heart.

This is a sorely needed talent in today’s politically correct world of pusillanimous frauds. She is a maverick among sheep, but Coulter is often vilified for this, while she should be lauded as a hero for our most precious national resource: The Dumb.

In the grand tradition of Jerry Springer, Colonel Tom Parker and Joseph Goebbels, Coulter is merrily plugging her new cantankerous volume entitled, “Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War To The War On Terrorism” with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. And from recent quotes, the book appears to brilliantly reveal how Americans understand history and its effects on today’s social fabric.

For instance, last night on MSNBC, Coulter wildly defended Senator Joseph McCarthy as “a misunderstood American hero whose sacrifices preserved America’s sovereignty for thirty-plus years.”

This is the very same McCarthy whose incredible ride to infamy included an historic monopoly of world-class fear mongering this democracy has ever had the displeasure to endure.

Understand Coulter’s genius here. Aside from Hitler or Manson or Nixon or Liberace, the very name McCarthy, attached as it is to a period of madness called McCarthyism, is notable for its enviable shock quotient. A monument to hate bating and paranoia run amok, McCarthy’s legacy is nothing if not noteworthy. He was a tremendous brute of his times, clinically insane and furiously malevolent, a true celebrity monster. But apparently in Coulter’s luminous tome we relearn that McCarthy’s savagely clumsy attack on basic democratic liberties was “bravery” and that “The myth of ‘McCarthyism’ is the greatest Orwellian fraud of our times.”

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On the heels of Hillary Clinton’s fantastically successful, “Living History” – an embarrassingly potent political manifesto wrapped neatly in a package of scrumptiously infantile musings – Coulter’s grandstanding is sublime, painfully striking, and a clear roadmap to 21st century thought. Clinton’s book aimed to put distance between her and her ass of a husband. Coulter’s work puts a loving stamp on what her president’s dissenters have dubbed “fear-mongering” in the guise of patriotism. But Clinton is a politician, and nothing politicians have written has really meant anything binding since “Mein Kampf”.

Coulter is different. She is a pro, in every brutal sense of the word. Coulter writes: “Liberals are fanatical liars, then as now. Everything you think you know about McCarthy is a hegemonic lie.”

This is excellent hyperbole, with just the right amount of stern recognition, but having not read the entire thing, I can only assume she gets to the bottom of these lies about McCarthy; lies which are a matter of overly analyzed public record for half a century. But the book, or the childish assumption that only Liberals held, or hold, McCarthy contemptible, is not the issue here. It is the use of McCarthy as a notorious figure, and an effigy of politics gone frightfully awry, as a weapon against Coulter’s enemy, The Left.

Trashing The Left, like Senator Rodham’s subtle forms of trashing The Right in her book tour, allow both to employ an important ingredient to mass appeal, consistency. No one wants their Bruce Springsteens jamming funk or Bill Bennetts strung out on cheap wine and loading up on seven-figure Vegas bets.

Some may find championing terrible goons as political martyrs for the benefit of ideology wrong.


Getting massive digs in on the enemy, while refiguring the legacy of a national embarrassment for personal profit has merit. This is what many books have done for decades, rediscovering the Kennedy assassination or the Vietnam War or the Nixon Tapes. It’s good press, even in the face of complete and utter contempt for common sense and truth.

Another fine example from Coulter: “McCarthy was not tilting at windmills. Soviet spies in the government were not a figment of right-wing imaginations. He was tilting at an authentic Communist conspiracy that had been laughed off by the Democratic Party.”

Beautiful craziness.

Did the overall manic dismantling of McCarthy’s crusade have a tinge of backlash fanaticism? Of course. Were there Communists in the government? Sure. In the pall of a Cold War, was it a threat to national security? Correct. Was this why McCarthy was finally harangued by his contemporaries or forever noted as a criminally insane lunatic? No. It was McCarthy’s methods of sidestepping laws, using media outcry and troubled times to promote a sick obsession to shamelessly self-promote his career.

Even Coulter sheepishly admits to McCarthy’s famous lie about a list of 57 names in the US government with Communist ties. But you won’t find that as a headline on the day I write this. You see, in a way, what Coulter is doing is a metaphor for McCarthy’s greatest legacy: Say something completely shocking and outlandish, and make someone deny or address it.

Artistic grace.

And finally the second most successful slant on truth used by Coulter here is her assessment that the Democratic Party was more or less run by a radical anti-American Communist regime since McCarthy’s public demise. This scoffs in the face of horrific mistakes made by Democratic administrations, not the least of which would be the Korean and Viet Nam Wars, instigated, by the way, by Democratic presidents, or the Bay of Pigs disaster, or blah, blah blah.

Coulter is silly, surely, but I, for one, salute her moxy, her guts, her complete disregard for clear thought and simple research to bolster her debate. She is a hero to our trade, and a great patriot, pointing us to the core of our being; not letting facts get in the way of making a buck.

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“Road Map To Peace” Vilified

Aquarian Weekly 6/25/03REALITY CHECK


Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion–several of them. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven. – Mark Twain

I have been on the road for more or less this entire spring promoting and discussing my new book, “Trailing Jesus”, and because several people are terrified about speaking too deeply on the subject, and because the fanatical culture goons have escalated their daily mutilations in Israel, my publicists have decided it would be a good idea to get me on the radio and in the newspapers and in the bookstores talking about Strife in the Middle East.

Sure, why not? Campion was nuts enough to visit a war zone to chase ghosts while holed up in the desert frantically taking notes on the back of Palestinian propaganda sheets and cocktail napkins from the King David Hotel; why don’t we crank up his acid tongue and have him chime in on the matter?

That’s entertainment.

People – not ideologies or governments or religions – people, who just want to send their kids off to school without gas masks or their husbands off to the office without a flap jacket or head down to the local grocery for dinner without the very real possibility that they will die, simply want to live. Not for God or country, just live for what is: a possibly vibrant and relatively safe life with friends, family and loved ones.

Yes, this is why some weeks back a blathering simpleton from CNN radio had me follow up his ten-minute monologue on the merits of another peace process, neatly entitled “A Roadmap to Peace” or some such insipid nonsense, with a dose of the old Reality Check.

That’s when I whipped out my Twain Quotables and dove in for some fine wisecracking country wisdom. Because if there is one thing Mrs. Clemens’ baby boy knew something about, it was the madness of the human psyche and its most lethal crutch, religious fanaticism; religious fanaticism with a smattering of world-weary providence.

You want to hear the palpable results of unloading a taste of Twain on an unwitting talk show host: Welcome to the silence of the stunned.

“But Mr. Campion, there is more hope now than ever before,” the poor bastard stammered after the engineer repeatedly screamed at him to say anything to fill the dead air.

“Hope is a concept for the grotesquely rich Hollywood types and dumb struck southern senators who have the luxury of getting their morning paper without losing limbs,” I said.

More silence.

“But would you have us stand by and watch these people kill each other?”

“I didn’t realize I was speaking to an us.”

“Would you have the world sit idly by and watch the parade of death and destruction?”

“In a perfect world perhaps the forty-seventh peace process will stick when motivated by the same tired rhetoric and photo ops, but in the one we’re forced to work in, it isn’t really making the grade, is it?”


Blah. Blah. Blah.

I will now write down for posterity what I told that lovable CNN rogue two weeks ago, and every kind and hearty soul who meandered out to hear me speak on matters of metaphysical mayhem and applesauce for the past weeks, and that is whatever politics and debate and carefully worded rhetoric has come down the pike in new and improved packaging, the fact still remains, peace in the region is futile.


Unless those involved are willing to let go of their eons of religious and cultural madness about whatever God promised to what sibling of Abraham and what is the birthright of generations of dead soldiers for Allah and Yahweh.

And we all know this is not going to happen.

See? Futile.

Peace processes in the desert are as perfunctory as mirages for those not used to the heat descending from the vast unwavering landscape before them. People not used to being inside of a desert, or who have not lived with the kind of lunacy that passes for righteousness in Israel right now, cannot begin to pontificate on peace or political compromises.

This is not, nor has it EVER been about politics. It is not about sovereignty either. If so, matters should have been settled in 1967. What no one wants to admit is that the playing field is fixed for a result of total annihilation or bust. And certainly no one – and I cannot stress this enough – no one that is not part of some freedom-fighting plan on the West Bank or treaty wrangling in the Israeli government cares who is victorious.

That is something I can tell you first hand, something I have broached in this space before. People – not ideologies or governments or religions – people, who just want to send their kids off to school without gas masks or their husbands off to the office without a flap jacket or head down to the local grocery for dinner without the very real possibility that they will die, simply want to live. Not for God or country, just live for what is: a possibly vibrant and relatively safe life with friends, family and loved ones.

I know this because I spoke to these people, Jew, Christian, Arab, Armenian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Atheist. They’re out there. Many are the victims of this circle of savagery that will continue long after those who read this, and the caustic jerk who is writing it, will be dust.

And that is why promoting a book about finding the real Jesus among the reams of drivel written and perpetuated in his name for centuries, and talking about peace processes enacted by countries and armies and politicians is as insane as the person failing again and again with the same action and expecting a different result.

Insanity personified.

There will soon come a time to put down the flags and the religious garb and the Torah and the Qu’ran and begin talking to each other as people, real people, not factions of cultures that were purportedly promised land by pie-in-the-sky concepts dreamed up by patriarchal con artists. Either that, or I hope those left standing after the final carnage will have won something for the correct God.

Until then, enjoy your sideshow to reality.

I abstain.

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Bear Hunt Madness

Aquarian Weekly 6/21/03 REALITY CHECK


If you live in my neck of the mountainous woods, or some points beyond, like places in New Jersey where no one reads or down in NYC, where the Village Voice is now being run by despots, you will hear a great deal of nonsense about some letter that was written to PETA (Protection for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) about organizing a vigilante group to shoot bear hunters here in the greater Vernon area.

You will also hear a lot of crazy talk about hooded nefarious types involved with The Desk and other seedy individuals seen leaving Fort Vernon with fatigues and bull horns and detailed maps of black bear hunting routes.

This is wrong.

Killing hunters? The irony is admittedly sweet, but it is still a crime here in New Jersey.

Slander is the better word. And those who wish to attach me to such scurrilous rumor will pay dearly, but not with their life. We here at Fort Vernon preach pacifism and civil disobedience, and even though the odd ass stomping must be administered to the right people, a glorious acceptance of peace and love.

I say let the bear fend for themselves. It’s natural selection. I’m sure there were plenty of Native Americans perfectly happy to hang here without any of the white man’s bullshit. But they are gone now, and so soon will the bear be gone.

I didn’t invent madness. I just comment on it. And now people who contemplate the parameters of my wife’s animal rights zealousness now think it necessary to drape me with all kinds of sick innuendo about feeding puppies to traveling bear to properly arouse their taste for blood and then dangle fresh raccoon meat from car antennas during midnight runs off side roads on Route 23.

As if the odd prank could even begin to organize the bear population to break into kitchens or feed on discarded infants.

I know the images are harsh, but you have no idea what kind of bizarre shit goes on up here late night when the bear comes out. It’s like a concentrated microcosm of SARS or Anthrax scares when nothing really happens but panic.

We don’t have terror alerts in the mountains. We have black bear.

Why do you think Orson Wells picked Jersey for his little radio ruse? It works well on the panicky kind. And we have so many up here it’s hard to fathom.

The good people of Sussex county or PETA have apparently not heard of Manifest Destiny or the United States army or the NJ State Police, and they want to shoot off their mouths and get smarmy about citizens taking up arms and cutting down those involved in some Neanderthal hunting activities up here.

I must rail against such nonsensical talk. Killing hunters? The irony is admittedly sweet, but it is still a crime here in New Jersey. At the very least it coincides with the Ten Commandments, and in my continued study of the Bible and other subversive material, that is where the fun stops.

No, I must not only take my name off such irresponsibly and criminally insane rhetoric, but I must implore my fellow Vernonites to bow to clearer solutions and allow the natural order of things to take hold. That is what we were taught in Civics 101 and Sunday school and at the lap of Grandpa, who told us to “Keep our friends close and our enemies closer” and “Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing” and other bits of wisdom that has outlasted dusty paperweights like the Bible.

But one thing this kind of reverse guerilla media warfare accomplishes is to alert us to this latest ham-handed attempt at silencing strange journalists with methods best left unsaid and unwritten and understood quite differently by people who don’t consider their environment and the dangers it presents.

The truth dies hard up here.

Bear are a much easier target.

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NJ Sports Heaven

Aquarian Weekly 6/4/03 REALITY CHECK


For perhaps the first and last time in the history of forever East Rutherford, New Jersey is the center of the professional sports world. At least it is for two of the big four, basketball and hockey. Currently, the New Jersey Nets wait around for the deans of fourth quarter collapse, the San Antonio Spurs to dismiss what is left of the Dallas Mavericks, while the New Jersey Devils supply a healthy dose of their own reality check to the Mighty Ducks from Anaheim.

That’s right, East Rutherford, a factory town in Bergen County of a little over nine thousand residents is now Title Town USA.

If a sports team wins a title in the woods and nobody hears it, did it really win it?

Admittedly East Rutherford is no New York City or even Green Bay or no one will mistake the Nets or the Devils place of residence, the Continental Airlines Arena, as the Great Western Forum, Yankee Stadium or even the hallowed grounds of South Bend. There is no mass transit that connects it to a big town or any cultural distractions that pepper its landscape.

Maybe that’s why despite having the best teams in their respective sports for two years no one in the local media pays much attention nor do fans of other teams care enough to root against them.

In fact, if attendance numbers at the Meadowlands this season were any indication, a good number of Devils and Nets fans don’t really seem to care either.

The Devils, although not as successful as the Eastern Conference Champion Nets a season ago, are now three wins away from their third Stanley Cup championship run in the past decade. And this is after a season of listening to hockey people tell you the Detroit Red Wings were the greatest thing since Murder’s Row.

The Devils scored three goals in a Game One victory last night against a team that managed to give up one lousy goal in a four game white-washing of the conference finals, and on the back page of every New York paper this morning are photos of NY Yankees. The Yankees have over 110 games to go before seeing a first round post-season game.

And as for the Nets, who have won a ridiculous 10 consecutive post-season contests, the team’s attendance for a sport that is arguably the most popular in the land is horribly low. So much so that the only story that persisted throughout the year around here was whether the Nets star point guard, Jason Kidd would bolt for someplace where people could actually see his nightly All-Star performances.

Why, I am suddenly guilty of taking some of the glory away by beleaguering the same tired points about East Rutherford and New Jersey being secondary outposts of tri-state sports enthusiasts.

But really, who cares if East Rutherford isn’t a toddlin’ town or has a neat nickname or some historic figure to represent it? Unless anyone considers the possibility that Jimmy Hoffa’s remains may have been scattered below Giants Stadium, along with a host of other unnamed early 20th century criminals of note. Does that diminish the accomplishment?

If a sports team wins a title in the woods and nobody hears it, did it really win it?

This is a fine Zen riddle, but hardly a truism.

Granted, this has now become a culture where apparently nothing matters unless someone gets a weepy documentary on VH1 to commemorate it.

But that is the talk of the big city egoist. East Rutherford does not boast such an animal. It does not have a grand history or a personality, or certainly any ditties written for it. And for that matter, neither does Jersey.

What East Rutherford does have is the final games of two of this nation’s most covered sports.

And soon after these historic weeks are through those teams and their respective sports will go to Newark and East Rutherford will be left with factories and those nine thousand souls. And the Giants and the Jets.

You know, the New York Giants and the New York Jets.

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Homeland Security Is A Scam

Aquarian Weekly 5/28/03 REALITY CHECK


Tom Ridge is a jabbering ass and a con man, and because his Homeland Security is a government appointed quagmire of bizarre innuendo and wild prognostications, we are stuck with him and his ilk for an Edgar Allen Poe stretch of time: Evermore.

That is because Homeland Security is another government agency created from the ashes of the other government agencies that failed to do what they were paid to do in the first place. And it is yet another in a long line of American institutions born of laziness and gullibility.

It is the second full day of the latest High Security Alert sent down from this miraculously insane money pit headed up by Ridge and his posse. It’s an Orange Alert don’t you know? And what does that mean anyway, High Alert? Orange? Are there instructions that go with this, or are we to assume High Alert and Orange mean something to someone somewhere?

Homeland Security is a sham. It is a cover, a band-aid for a gaping wound, and not just the one in Lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center used to be, but also the bigger ones at the once defunct and now wholly resurrected Pentagon and the vacant hallways of the Central Intelligence Agency.

You know what it really means?

Homeland Security is a sham. It is a cover, a band-aid for a gaping wound, and not just the one in Lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center used to be, but also the bigger ones at the once defunct and now wholly resurrected Pentagon and the vacant hallways of the Central Intelligence Agency. It is the answer to our government’s monumental failure to protect our borders, even after decades of international abuses and ignoring the blatant signs of backlash that were oh so prevalent to those mocked as doomsayers and goof balls only five short years ago.

Homeland Security is also a glaring example of the great American tradition: The Excuse. This Excuse annexes a staggered glut of tax monies to provide jobs for the unemployable sops that crawl around the darker corners of Washington looking for a handout while the police and military lounge around waiting for the Next Big Thing.

Because other than that, what in the good name of the Pet Rock do we need Homeland Security for?

To allow the government, ignoring the dangers of pussy footing with Arab oil mob types for a half century, to save face after the next national disaster? Or does it merely allow politicians to make noise after every terrorist rumor so they can eventually congratulate themselves when nothing happens or throw their collective hands up when the shit goes down and tell everyone they told you so?

This is what these people do. They love to specialize and homogenize problems away, a sort of Mr. Clean for social dilemmas.

You see Homeland Security is not unlike the curious invention of the Hate Crime. I can no longer recall a day when beating someone tied to a fence with tire irons for no social reason was not considered a crime of hate. Yet we had to invent something for the abuses of gays and minorities and women. The real laws governing our protection and justice against murderous thugs were not enough. It needed to be qualified to Hate Crimes.

The specialization of America continues with Homeland Security. The Federal Bureau of Investigation isn’t an expensive enough attempt at securing the homeland. We needed Homeland Security for this.

This is a practice akin to union workers expanding two jobs to four or five. It used to take twenty men to build an American car. It now takes forty, because there is one guy to rivet the lug nuts and another to shine the windows and so on. This translates well to the United States government. And it doesn’t matter who is in charge. There is so much fat and bloated numbers of people doing nothing in this government that it always makes room for more.

And that is the plan. Keep the insiders working on our dollar.

Crank up the alerts and change the colors and pray to whatever god suits you that nothing else happens.

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Economic Stimulus Package Crapolla

Aquarian Weekly 5/14/03 REALITY CHECK


It is important to point out at this juncture that anyone taking political bows for the systematic dismantling of a third world nation by the most powerful and expensive fighting machine on the planet should be exposed for the opportunistic spin jockeys they aspire to be, and eventually held accountable for whatever weapons are not discovered within the borders of Iraq over the next calendar year.

In the coming weeks you are going to hear a lot of talk from men in ties and women in suits taking credit for a fixed military campaign that was never in doubt. It has already begun. It is disingenuous. It is grandstanding. And it is expected. But it has nothing to do with truth or this pitiful economy or your precarious job as a result of it.

It has everything to do with no mandate regarding domestic concerns, which has been the real quagmire around here.

Using the war or the fallout from 9/11 can only go so far for this current administration or the congress it helped form. It is time for the current government to take political responsibility for its abysmal economic record.

Crushing foreign regimes with wretchedly out of date equipment and a weak-ass, mostly guerilla army does not a mandate make.

Ask the first Bush who tried that.

And while millions of our tax dollars goes to rebuilding Iraq and appeasing allies and keeping the military police running things in the Middle East, and the red, white and blue bulldozer that heaves endless funds into the money pit known as Homeland Security, the financial solvency of the United States of America and its citizens is in serious question.

You also hear a great deal of back-tracking talk from political hopefuls in 2004 that want you to believe that although they were vehemently and vocally against the war, they were always for the troops and the civil rights of Iraqis. That will also be bullshit.

This will be mixed with talk about how the war, although so far not producing the big-gun villains like Saddam or his brothers, or any Weapons of Mass Destruction, was really about human rights and freeing Iraqis. As stated so many times in this space that it boggles reason, this is a fine example of bullshit’s better half, horseshit. When someone does something about China’s record human rights abuses I’ll believe them, until then shut the fuck up about human rights.

The truth is the military campaign in Iraq was long overdue and probably not completely necessary from a foreign policy standpoint. Could the money and time and lives sacrificed have been better served by a well-designed covert black ops mission, a CIA assassination, fancy coup de tat, or waiting another month for the world to rally the weapons inspectors?

Perhaps, but this is a new world and the constant rhetoric by terrorists that used to laugh at the sleeping giant that was too moral and too conservative to try anything like what went down this spring has ceased. Only a loud public stomping of that kind of magnitude would accomplish this.

And although those lucky enough to be living in fantasyland may see loud public stompings as abhorrent, regardless of what your definition of patriot is these days, they are sometimes good. Those of us forced to comment on the stinking, rotten mess of the real world see the odd stomping differently.

In the long run having Hussein out of the Middle East will settle a few key ingredients for the protection of financial and military allies like Israel, not to mention the billions of other funds funneled into Middle Eastern countries, and the all-important US oil concerns. Again, this is good, unless you use energy alternatives to oil, which unfortunately most of us do not. But it has nothing, let me repeat; not little or hardly, but NOTHING to do with how this county will survive this year or the next with an outrageously bloating national debt, soaring record numbers of unemployed and a frighteningly unstable stock market.

Using the war or the fallout from 9/11 can only go so far for this current administration or the congress it helped form. It is time for the current government to take political responsibility for its abysmal economic record.

I have no space or inclination to start throwing figures out there. They range from whomever you choose to receive them from, but none of them are good. Now the president campaigns for another tax cut package, mainly because his war was successful. Yes, well, that is a ducky reason, even amusing, but glaringly asinine and spurious, and in some circles, plain silly, even for George W. Bush.

Hey, I want a tax cut. Sounds good. Pay fewer taxes. Only here’s the problem. This administration received their rather healthy tax cut a few years back. Things have not turned out well. Actually things are friggin’ bad. Really bad. Historically, painfully, sickeningly bad.


Sears screwed me lately. I don’t buy anything at Sears anymore.

Get the analogy?

Once again, as pointed out here in the past, the economy usually has little to nothing to do with stimulus packages trumped up by the executive branch or bills bouncing around capital hill, or even Allen Greenspan tantrums. Just like not one of these blathering suits brandished a weapon in the desert last month. But this latest political football fallout from the War on Iraq kicking around Washington and into our living rooms on cable news outlets is getting into the blurry images political strategists dig. They love it when that happens. They love to tell you that since the president commandeered the war and it ended in victory, then hi-hip-hooray for tax cuts!

By that reasoning the heavyweight champion of the world should be appointed Queen of England.

Or something like that.

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Ani DiFranco In Bloom

Aquarian Weekly 5/12/03 REALITY CHECK

A Candid Discussion on Political Change, Gay Marriage, Jesus, and Personal Exorcism With Buffalo’s Finest

Ani DiFrancohow can one talk on the role of politics in art when art is activism and anyway both are just a lifelong light shining through a swinging prism


Since our last published discussion two springs ago, my favorite folk gal has been through some dark times and personal reflection, while also managing to shoulder more social causes than any normal musical performer. Ani Difranco puts her passion where her music and soul reside, and does so under the microscope of the liberated and angry (she hates that) young woman artist thing. Her projects and efforts to restore and preserve her hometown in Buffalo, her overt national political endeavors and women’s rights engagements are inexhaustible, and to this grouchy cynic, enviable. Somehow she always finds her way into a studio and onto stages to perform her ass off.

On the heels of her latest record, the probingly intense, “Educated Guess” and a new one-woman tour hitting Carnegie Hall on 5/15, Ms. Difranco decided to open up in her only east coast interview this spring.

This is what transpires when two diminutive, big-mouthed Virgo troublemakers get together.

james campion: The last time we did this you had a very positive view of grass roots politics and how it can still engender change. So, after two more years of the present administration, another war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and everything else that’s happened since the spring of 2002, I wonder what your mood is today toward the American political scene.

Ani DiFranco: I’m still very optimistic for the potential of grass roots change. I still see and feel it out there. It’s what allows me to get up in the morning, the immense possibility that exists all around us right now. I was hanging out with my friend Dennis Kucinich the other night, and he’s so energetic and so brilliant and so positive. At one point he runs across the room and slams his hands against the wall and says, “Some people see a wall here, but in between each one of these molecules there’s a whole other reality! It’s something we can’t see or what we can see if we collectively envision it. If we draw it out. There’s another reality existing around us right now.” So we admitted that we don’t need to change the world. The world is changing around us. We just need to direct that change. And our power to direct it is immense once we use it.

jc: I was going to ask you about Kucinich and exactly how he represents the political side of your worldview. You backed his run during the democratic primary. Of course, Kerry is going to represent the party now, but certainly others like Kucinich and Howard Dean have given voice to the anti-war movement and other liberal agendas. Having said that I know you supported the last Ralph Nader campaign in 2000. I gave up on Ralph in ’96, myself. So I must ask where you stand on Kerry, and will you throw your considerable influence to Nader in the upcoming election?

“We don’t need to change the world. The world is changing around us. We just need to direct that change. And our power to direct it is immense once we use it.”

AD: (chuckling sarcastically) Ahhhh, no. My support four years ago for Nader was very qualified. I showed up for one of his rallies in New York with a press release in my little paw that said I support voting for him in the done-deal states, but in the swing states I felt very strongly about the priority being voting against Bush.

jc: No kidding.

AD: Yeah, that was my scene at the time. Somewhere along the way during those primaries somebody asked me, “Who do you think is the best candidate?” And I said, “Well…Nader. He’s got his head screwed tightest onto his shoulders. He has the best ideas.” So he sort of used that as an endorsement.

jc: So he never officially solicited your endorsement.

AD: Ralph called me up, personally, and said, “You know every time I say your name up on stage at a rally I get the biggest response.” He said, ” You gotta come out, Ani! You gotta come out!” And I told him, “Ralph, this is a very complicated situation.” But I was very impressed with the fact that he still wanted me to participate in the rally in New York with my qualified support. I even stood there at the press conference and said that I believe voting with my conscience means the lesser of two evils, because my conscience includes people less fortunate and more affected by these minute distinctions of corporate whores like Gore or Bush. Then, of course, along with a number of other people I was disappointed at the way Nader played that out, and the way he seems to be repeating that scenario now. Meanwhile, Dennis is still in the race.

jc: I’m glad you mentioned it, otherwise…

AD: Yeah, you’d never know. Of course, mums the word in the media. But he’s still in the race. And Dennis is doing exactly what I would hope Nader would eventually do, which is to stay in there through the primaries to push the debate as long as he can. The point being to show that the progressive population of America is here, that we count, that we matter. That we’re powerful, and that the Democratic Party must distinguish itself once again, if they want to survive, not to mention other more meaningful reasons. So Dennis plans to stay in the primaries, and then he’ll lend his support to Kerry in the general election.

My plan, personally, is to continue working with my friend, Dennis in whatever capacity we can invent, because he is a comrade, because he is a like-minded, wonderful, inspiring person to me. We’re bouncing around a few ideas that in the fall we’d do a swing-state tour. Doing voter registration. Creating shows that are part political rally, part musical party with a real eye toward the upcoming election, trying to get young people motivated and involved. Although it does seem that America is pretty darned inspired to get involved at this point, I would say, which is a relief.

Ani DiFrancojc: As you play across the country, what kind of passion do young people have for voting? That’s always been the concern since ’72; 18, 19, 20 year-old kids get motivated to go to rallies and contribute over the Internet, but as we witnessed with the doomed Dean campaign, will they actually come out and cast a vote?

AD: I really wouldn’t know. I stand on stage and I play guitar and I sing and talk to people, but I don’t know if they go out and vote. From what I hear, from the statistics that seem to be thrown about in this country people are not voting, especially young people, and it’s very understandable, the mass disillusionment with what is obviously a farce.

jc: The “fixed game” thing again.

AD: Yes, but ironically, it is the reinvestment in the belief in government that is going to get us out of this mess. It’s funny, even my friend Utah Phillips, who’s a card carrying anarchist – how’s that for an oxymoron – says he’s fixin’ to go register and vote this time. His philosophy is his body is his ballot and he votes with it every day, and I have a lot of respect for the way he approaches it. But for the rest of us, voting is a very important contribution and the first step to involvement and participation. While Utah talks about voting as assigning responsibility for governance to others, I think of it as securing institutional support for the good work of people, for the work that we are doing, that we continue to do, that we must do. Without people on the inside, without support of these institutions that exist whether or not we participate in staffing them or not, we can’t do the work. Our hands are tied. If we’re shipped off to a desert to die, or if we’re locked up for cannabis possession for untold amount of years, or etc, etc., we cannot live and grow as a people. So, it was heartening to hear Utah say he may step out of his anarchist shoes for a second and go and pull a level because it’s that fucking desperate.

I can only hope that young people can rise above the mind control of the media, which says consume, consume, consume and deny and forget your power as a citizen, and that we will rediscover it on our own through the encouragement and inspiration of each other.

jc: Speaking of the system, and the absurdities within, the last time we spoke we talked about what you called the “defacto economic segregation” which exists in this country, and of which you touch upon in your song, “Subdivision”. I equate that to the “cultural segregation” in this gay marriage issue. I wrote in a recent column that if you take out the frightened-by-the-unknown aspect of it, if you remove the vague moralities of it, and if you expunge God from it, the argument makes about as much legal sense as forcing citizens to sit in the back of the bus or women being denied the right to vote.

“I can only hope that young people can rise above the mind control of the media, which says consume, consume, consume and deny and forget your power as a citizen, and that we will rediscover it on our own through the encouragement and inspiration of each other.”

AD: I think you’ve got your finger right on the epicenter of the problem when you said take the moral part out of it. That’s the huge part of this debate. People are confusing God and religious customs and sanctions with laws. We are completely muddling this issue. I think that the word marriage should be dropped from that quest altogether, and we should all have civil unions in terms of the state involvement, because that’s what it is, legal benefits for partners. Gay or straight, you should have hospital rights or will rights. That’s all about civil union. We should make that across the board for all couples, and that’s as far as the law should go, providing legal rights for couples.

Now in terms of marriages and whether its Adam and Eve or Adam and Steve, or whether this is going to be culturally acceptable, that is fought out in the churches, in the communities, but it has nothing to do with the government’s role. Whether we want to accept it as a society it should be left out of the government’s responsibility to provide equal rights for people.

Actually my friend, Dennis helped my thoughts grow a bit on women’s right to choose for instance. Dennis is a Catholic boy from Ohio, grew up pro life and thinking abortion is wrong, and then he switched his position as a politician because he began talking to women, and listening to women, and realizing that unless an individual woman can control her own body she is not free. To not own your own body means you are a slave. He began to see it as a civil right that applies only to women, and conceive of it that way, and the government’s involvement in that matter should only be on that level in terms of preserving women’s freedom through guaranteeing this civil right. Whether or not it’s morally acceptable or reprehensible, that’s for the churches, for the people, for individuals to work out for themselves. It’s not for the government. The government should not legislate morality on that level.

jc: Of course this has always been my beef with the FCC.

AD: Yeah, and it’s just about clarifying government’s role in providing these civil rights. We have freedom of speech. The government’s job is to preserve that. What we say, whether its right or wrong, or good or bad, that’s for people to work out amongst themselves, and for society to put pressure on people that say bad things, but their right to say it must be guaranteed by the government, and the government’s job ends there.

jc: Did you have a chance to see “The Passion Of The Christ”?

AD: No. Not interested in the least.

jc: The reason I bring it up is I was quite hard on it because I spent some 12 years researching and writing a book on the search for the historical Jesus, and we’ve discussed the separation of the revolutionary historical figure versus the Christ figure before…

AD: Right.

jc: Now, using your analogy of Kucinich’s journey in reassessing the Pro-Choice issue, mine was the opposite. I’m always going on and on about defending the artists’ right to free expression, but yet I not only took offense to Gibson’s view of Jesus of Nazareth as a sacrificial vessel of a patriarchal God, but the method with which he magnified the same old Catholic dogma. I called Gibson a propagandist, yet I have always known intellectually that all art in one way or the other is the expression of a viewpoint in propagandist terms. Your songs. My writing. But my emotions seemed to swing me into a personal attack on the artist.

AD: Sure, but I can understand that. I didn’t see the film, but from what I understand of the Bible and the story of Jesus and what we have carried down culturally through the ages, it’s a multifaceted and life-affirming story, and there’s a little moment in there when he gets taken down. He’s taken down by the power structure. It’s a warning to those of us who want to make change. It’s a lesson there too. But to make a whole film on that moment…

jc: …or a 2,000 year-old religion for that matter.

Ani DiFrancoAD: Fuckin’ yeah! To boil it down to the moment of defeat and gory violence, I mean, even the crucifix as a symbol for him is just fundamentally morbid, bizarre, and wrong-headed. To show the man in his moment of defeat, when he was so full of life, when he gave people life, when he inspired people to freedom. To use that to represent his meaning I think is bizarre, and to construct a movie all around this sort of violent, unfortunate death? I would think that anyone with a real passion for that man and his teachings would make a movie about his life, not his death. I have no interest in gratuitous violence in movies to begin with, let alone of a religious nature. (laughs)

jc: This is why you’re one of my favorite people.

AD: (laughs)

jc: No, really, because I’ve spent all of my adult life trying to defuse this harmful myth, which to me shows a complete lack of respect regarding the assassination of someone who endeavored to demonstrate the divine spark of humanity, and then to prop it up as some sort of victory? I can’t accept it, and never could, even as a ten year-old Catholic-schooled boy.

AD: If we keep staring at that cross, at that moment of defeat, what are we supposed to feel? We’re supposed to feel hopeless, we’re supposed to feel powerless, we’re supposed to feel pity or remorse? What is that to keep carrying through the ages?

jc: Well, the most important thing you’re supposed to feel is guilt.

AD: Guilt! Oh, God! I forgot the guilt! (laughs)

jc: (laughs) That’s the key.

AD: I should have mentioned that one first.

jc: I’d like to talk about the new record, so this is the butt kissing part of the interview.

AD: Ah! (laughs) Woo! Hoo!

jc: I view “Educated Guess” as your “Blood On The Tracks”. I don’t know how much you respect that record, but I’m of the opinion that Dylan’s best work was, and still is the ultimate musical statement on the despair of loneliness and the loss of love. Coming from a writer’s perspective, the lyrics on “Educated Guess” achieves that level. That record, for me, could not have come any closer to the bone. So I’m wondering where you have to go, what you have to endure to achieve it?

I’ve not been alone for many years and I was emotionally unhealthy with a lack of solitude and time for reflection, so this record represents a journey back to myself, the self that began writing songs and playing them solo and making little records on her own.”

AD: Well, you know, I have not said this yet while talking about the record, but I’ll say it to you. It was an absolute exorcism for me. And because of that it’s my favorite record that I’ve made. I guess me being more of a Springsteen fan than a Dylan fan, I think of it as my “Nebraska”. You know, the record I made in my bedroom, cause I had to…alone. And the aloneness of it was like medicine for me. I’ve not been alone for many years and I was emotionally unhealthy with a lack of solitude and time for reflection, so this record represents a journey back to myself, the self that began writing songs and playing them solo and making little records on her own. Except, hence the title, I am slightly older, and hopefully, slightly wiser now.

jc: Well, if there’s better line than, “As dolls go, I am broken” I don’t know if I’ve seen it.

AD: (laughs)

jc: You read a particularly striking poem when you played at the Beacon here in New York back in November. You pulled it from your pants pocket. I haven’t heard it anywhere since. Is it going to end up on a record?

AD: Yeah, yeah. Next record.

jc: Oh, great.

AD: (recites) “33 years-old and not once do you come home to find a man in your bedroom that is a man you don’t know.” That one?

jc: Yes.

AD: I actually have a plan for my next record. I’m going in the opposite direction of “Educated Guess”, now that I’ve found myself again in this pile of my life. I called up my friend Joe Henry, a beautiful songwriter, and a snappy dresser and a creative, energetic man. I invited him to share the stage with me month’s back, and we really resonated. Every night we’d sit around after the shows and talk, and we discovered we have a lot of the same sensibilities and energy when it comes to making records. So I began to envision my next record. I called him up with two songs! I had two songs and I called him up and asked, “You wanna co-produce my next record?” and he said yes. Then I just began furiously writing. I wrote like eight songs in just a few weeks. So not only is it going to be a completely new environment for me to have a co-producer, to be working with new musicians, it’s also new for me to approach a record with my eye on the prize from the beginning. I’m writing for the project, with the idea of the destination in mind, as opposed to just writing songs and sort of looking at the collection later in the game and beginning to conceive of what the record is. I’m actually conceiving of it from the onset, which is a new process for me. It’s been really fascinating for me.

jc: Sounds like it. Can we expect to hear those songs at the upcoming Carnegie Hall show?

AD: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, I’m playing mostly those songs now.

jc: How’s Buffalo?

AD: Well, I hear…well, I don’t know. I ain’t been there in awhile. I’ve been on the lovely west coast. I imagine my garden will be awake when I get home. Can’t wait.

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A Discussion with Dan Bern – Part II

Aquarian Weekly 4/30/03 REALITY CHECK

TALKIN’ DAN BERN MUSE – Part II An Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Dan Bern conducted over the phone lines on the road from Pittsburgh to Philly from The Desk at Fort Vernon. 3/26/03

jc:. I’d like to talk about musical style for a moment. Since I’m a fan of Dylan and Woody Guthrie, I noticed Guthrie in your song “Jail” and an obvious homage to Dylan in “Talkin’ Al Kida Blues”. Also, Dan Bernthe first song on the new “Fleeting Days” record called “Baby Bye Bye” is a great stab at Springsteen. As all artists, do you use other voices to create your own sound?

DB: I suppose. Some things are probably closer in style to those tunes than other stuff. If people hear it, it’s probably there. Those are songwriters I’ve definitely listened to and absorbed and so it probably comes out that way.

jc: As you become more and more ingratiated into the culture of celebrity, less than some certainly, but still, do you feel it’s harder to write songs as an observer? Ken Kesey once said that fame for a writer is the death of observation, because the more you become part of the landscape, it’s more difficult to write about it.

DB: Maybe I would feel that way if I were more famous. I’ve never been on Conan. I’ve never been on the cover of any major magazine. I still feel like I’m the guy outside looking in. I suppose I’ll always feel that way, you know, the outsider.

jc: You reference icons of culture more than anyone I’ve heard, from Jesus to Henry Miller to Monica Seles to Leonardo DeCaprio to Hitler. You can tell from listening to your songs you’re aware of so much of your surroundings from a cultural sense.

DB: I don’t know. I think I’m able to separate it. It’s not like the people I’m writing about know me or hear the songs. Maybe they do, but I’m not aware of it. So, it keeps a distance.

jc: How do you see the music business from your end as the outsider? Do you experience the conglomerate, corporate side of the business or do you avoid that as well?

DB: I don’t have much to do with that. From my standpoint it’s a lot of hard work and I don’t get a lot of that magical thing, throwing around a lot of money or having my picture up on a billboard. Usually I’m pissed off because I get to a gig and nobody put our posters up. That’s kind of the world I’m dealing with.

jc: It’s still grass for you.

“It’s a personal struggle that I have, really. I’ve had it my whole life; this wish and desire to right wrongs of the past. So when I’m talking, when the narrator is talking, I’m expressing that wish. I’m confronting that desire. And I think when God is talking; I’m sort of getting the answer.”

DB: It’s more grass roots now than when I first started making records. I was with Sony for a couple of records. They didn’t spend money wisely. I don’t think they quite knew what to do with me. Every once in awhile they’d throw a bunch of money at something and you’d get the feeling that something might happen, but for the last several years it’s really been about making good records and to keep writing the songs and keep being relevant to myself and the audience and not go completely broke doing it.

jc: Amen to that. Do you prefer playing with a band, or is there a place for you to perform your songs by yourself.

DB: Oh yeah, I think that is something I will always use. This fall I’m going to go out for a couple of months by myself. I have more time when I do that. I have space. I write more when I’m by myself on the road, and the pallet, the song bag is bigger when I’m by myself. I can play anything I can remember. Even though this band has a pretty wide array of songs from my bag, and it’s widening, there’s a lot of places we can go in terms of material. But even with that, there are limits. And with playing by myself there’s just this connection between you and audience that’s a pretty cool thing.

jc: Let me ask you about one specific song that I saw you perform by yourself that I know is a favorite of your fans. When my wife and I saw you do it we looked at each other and knew this guy has something special, and that’s “God Said No”. Is that song Nietzschian? Is it from a theological standpoint? Does the narrator who asks God to send him back and keep Kurt Cobain from suicide or assassinate Hitler or save Jesus from the cross, does he believe he is actually speaking to God, or is it merely a commentary about the linear aspect of life and it’s limitations to live “in the now”?

DB: It’s a personal struggle that I have, really. I’ve had it my whole life; this wish and desire to right wrongs of the past. So when I’m talking, when the narrator is talking, I’m expressing that wish. I’m confronting that desire. And I think when God is talking; I’m sort of getting the answer.

jc: No.

DB: Yeah.

jc: Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?

DB: I think what I consider God is something that other people might consider as nature or existence. That’s what I look to. That’s where I get answers of substance. I think it’s there. Without sounding to hippyish, I think the trees breathe and they give us answers.

jc: Having said that, would you purchase or read a book that paints Jesus of Nazareth as a social revolutionary who was miserably misunderstood and whose teachings and personal sacrifice has been criminally annexed for two thousand years?

DB: Sure.

jc: (laughs) Good, it’s the subject my new book. “Trailing Jesus”. I’ll get you a copy.

DB: (laughs) Yeah, I’d love to read that.

jc: This discussion was actually quite inspirational for me, since I’m going on a promotional tour for the book and I’ll be on the other end of the phone trying to avoid direct answers of theorem in the work, and still give acceptable answers. You’re pretty good at that.

DB: Well, thanks. (chuckles) I’m sure you’re up to the task yourself. You know I’ve always felt willing and able to add my two cents to any like-minded movement that needs a singer, but at the same time I feel like if I speak for myself then I can’t go too wrong.

Read Part I

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A Discussion with Dan Bern Part I

Aquarian Weekly 4/16/03 REALITY CHECK

TALKIN’ DAN BERN MUSE – Part I An Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Dan Bern conducted over the phone lines on the road from Pittsburgh to Philly from The Desk at Fort Vernon. 3/26/03

Dan Bern songs speak to me. That is the power of song, and it is not lost on him. And although he is one of the most prolific composers of this era – Messenger Records chairman, Brandon Kessler told me he could release Dan Bernan album a week – there is an obvious care given to each lyric, each characterization, each wonderfully crafted chord progression. This is because Bern is cut in the mold of the old-time songster who would use the medium to cajole and soothe the listener right along with its author, as if sharing an experience. And the range of his emotions is wide.

He should have a wider audience, and he’s working on it, touring like a madman – he even recently played his baseball songs at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – but mainly because Dan Bern is everything right about the craft of songwriting and performing. A troubadour, a poet, a painter and a writer, he shies away from nothing, opening dangerous channels to allow his audience to peer down with him.

The first time I saw him; he blew me away, the honesty and humor right there for everyone to see. No pretensions, no illusions, pure ugliness and beauty set to music. Soon after, Bern’s recordings played in the background for the final excruciating days of finishing my last book; no small task since completing a book is like being in some kind of labor/limbo for months. And it was a pleasure to hand him a copy after his Bowery Ballroom show mere days after conducting this interview.

It was more of a discussion than an interview really, as Bern let his slow, infectious drawl pour over the answers with an old country wisdom belying his mid-thirties experience. We started out with a jibe on his playfully rambling song, “Jerusalem”, which happens to be the first one on his first, self-titled 1997 recording, a song in which Bern announces that he is the Messiah; a nugget too good to ignore for a wise-ass like me.

jc: Let me start off by asking, are you still the Messiah, or has that changed for you the last couple of years?

Dan Bern: No. (chuckles)

jc: No, it hasn’t changed? Or no, you’re not the Messiah?

DB: No.

jc: (laughs) The only reason I’m asking is I’m Beelzebub. So I guess you and I have a meeting in the desert sometime soon.

“The whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changes and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest.

DB: I’m looking forward to it. Anytime, bring it on.

jc: Do you see yourself less as a folksinger and more as a satirist? Most of your work, specifically “Cure For AIDS” and the “Swastika Song” are in that vein, less serious commentary than satire.

DB: Well, it shifts around. I think it really depends on the song. Actually, those labels – folksinger or satirist – I tend to shy away from them myself, or anything that can put you in a box. Other people do it, but I never found it necessary. This way I can take it from song to song.

jc: Would you say that your songs are more observations rather than commentary?

DB: I think you have to make the observations, but then, what do you do with them? What are they for? How do they fit into some larger picture? So I think the observation is part of the work, but then what does it mean? What did you make the observation for?

jc: So would you consider the meaning behind these observations in your songs more from an optimist’s standpoint or a pessimist’s?

DB: I certainly have my moments of pessimism, but I think overall just to be out here doing this, being able to write songs in the face of everything else, there’s a hope, a belief in something.

jc: So you’d say writing the songs, even from the pessimist’s side, is something of a catharsis for you and the hope comes from the listener going through the same thing?

DB: I think so. If you’re just looking to depress people, what’s the point? If someone is out there going through terrible times, from losing their house to just fighting traffic, and they spend their hard earned money to go out and hear me play my songs, there has to be something positive there. I know if I’m going to a show I’m expecting to be uplifted somehow, gain a kind of inspiration from it. I’d hope that’s happening with my performances.

jc: How much of your own personal experience do you put in the songs? In other words, you write predominantly in the first person, so when you use “I” in a song, are you talking directly from your own experience?

DB: Well that shifts too. There’s some reflection of me. It’s the narrator, really. If you look at it like a short story, the “I” is coming from the narrator, not the guy who wrote it. There’s an assumption that within the theme there will be a good deal of a similarity with the author. It works like some kind of a mirror, but you have to give yourself the complete freedom to take the truth as you see it and stretch the hell out of it. (chuckles)

jc: (laughs) All right, but for instance, the touching aspects of a song like “Lithuania” seems extremely biographical, while also speaking to various different avenues of the universal personality, even if the listener didn’t happen to have grandparents who were murdered by Nazis. There is something personal, yet eminently relatable to ghosts of our past that shape us, the relatives we’ve never met, the experiences of escaping our legacy.

DB: Yes, a song like that crosses over. That song is very much, if not completely, autobiographical.

jc: As opposed to something satirical like “The Swastika Song”, which comments on the same issues as “Lithuania”, but in a completely different voice. You are coming to grips with the issues of the past in “Lithuania” and grabbing back a part of history that has been annexed by hate to return it to a positive art form in “The Swastika Song”.

DB: (chuckles) Yeah, it’s like a big mural on the wall. You throw it up there.

jc: Would you consider yourself a realist? Or do you try and create a world that is best suited for your art?

DB: Hopefully I’m covering the whole ball of wax song by song. Again, in the course of a two or three hour show, I feel the need for the songs to speak clearly and linearly at some point and distort and stretch at other points. I don’t think I’d be comfortable sitting with only one way of speaking of things.

jc: Or one viewpoint.

DB: Yeah, the whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changes and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest.


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