Ken Kesey : 1935 – 2001 ‘s tribute.

Aquarian Weekly 11/28/01 REALITY CHECK

KEN KESEY: 1935 – 2001

“These things don’t happen,” Harding said to the girl solemnly. “These things are fantasies you lie awake at night dreaming up and then afraid to tell your analyst. You’re not really here. That wine isn’t real; none of this exists. Now, let’s go on from there.”– Ken Kesey from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

I carried around a dog-eared copy of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest my entire sophomore year of high school. It is hard to admit now, in print, but it’s true. I’d already read the damn thing twice, but hoped, in some strange way, that the spirit of it would somehow work its way into me. I tried a similar move with The Great Gatsby, but that didn’t take. Not that Cuckoo’s Nest took in any conventional or tangible way, it’s just that it spoke to me in modes that I needed to be spoken to.

It is hard to fully impart that experience now, some 25 years later, but needless to say, it was influential in all that word denotes. It was training of the first degree, a lesson in language and metaphor as bazooka, and for that I will forever be grateful.

You see, young writers love Cuckoo’s Nest, because there is a freedom there, a real sense of creative liberty. And with liberty there is the wonderful feeling of danger and confusion, and all the elements of great art, the kind of stuff that makes a young man feel alive and worthy of wasting his time in front of a typewriter or with a musical instrument or any form of creative expression. It’s like when the Jazz guys talk about Coltrane or Monk or Miles Davis or the paint crowd creams over Jackson Pollock’s colorful mess.

There is a load of that same stuff in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. These are books that scorch the eyes and twist the brain, but, for me, they came later. Cuckoo’s Nest, and soon after, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five were first for me. And firsts; first kiss, first sunrise, first time behind the wheel, first drink, first night on the beach, first ballgame, first published work, first true love; these are the memories that stick and jab and keep coming back to remind us that we feel, that we live.

Ken Kesey was one of those wonderful confused danger addicts who could create something of this kind because he felt life to the core. And Cuckoo’s Nest was his manifesto.

Critically, his second novel, Sometimes A Great Notion received more noise, but Cuckoo’s Nest was immortalized in film and theater, and has an edge to it that is eminently American in its reach. It is free and wild and has an open air of possibility that reflects what is truly great about the American literary spirit; check that, the American spirit, period.

If Kesey had merely written Cuckoo’s Nest – he compiled the notes for the book while volunteering for LSD experiments and then working as a psychiatric aide at Menlo Park Veterans Administration Hospital – there would have been sufficient enough evidence that he was comfortable teetering on high wires.

But Kesey lived his art in the same fashion, by being the honest troubadour of lunacy and mayhem, the quintessential Californian jester, the clown prince of whimsical release. His gift was harboring energy, not letting it go. He could let it engulf him, channel it, and make it into a book, make it into Cuckoo’s Nest.

Kesey was one of those nine lives types, a genetic mutation of Baby Boomer angst and good old-fashioned Great Depression bravado. Sadly, many of those lives were spent jerking off around Mexico in a drug haze, or sitting as the Grand Poobah of a lost gaggle of hippies in the California Mountains. But even then, Kesey used the foul nature of the beast as performance art – the precursor to Andy Kaufman – in what he called the Merry Pranksters.

You see, young writers love Cuckoo’s Nest, because there is a freedom there, a real sense of creative liberty. And with liberty there is the wonderful feeling of danger and confusion, and all the elements of great art, the kind of stuff that makes a young man feel alive and worthy of wasting his time in front of a typewriter or with a musical instrument or any form of creative expression.

Ah, the Pranksters. Never has a more meaningless endeavor culled the imagination, while demonstrating how a warped cross-country bus ride could capture the pointless rebellion of youth with hallucinogenic stupidity. It was less fun, than militant madness, a stretch of mind-swelling, spiteful counter culture hyperbole. And it was fueled by Kesey’s formulaic mania, sometimes satirical, sometimes emboldened farce.

But a mere prank was never really Kesey’s style. He was what a very good friend of mine calls the “balls to the wall” mentality.

Kesey rode the sucker to the bitter end, or in this case, New York’s World Fair. Filmed the whole thing. Naked, painted hippies, bikers and the human match stick, Neal Cassidy behind the wheel, it was the true movable feast, a happening, a ruckus. Tom Wolfe came along for the ride. He wrote a book and called it The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The high brows called it the new journalism; Wolfe became a famous novelist, Kesey became an infamous one.

Kesey once said that a writer couldn’t be famous because it was “hard to observe when every one is observing you.”

Kesey said a great deal of smart and insightful things about spirituality and politics and art and literature, but that was buried beneath years of drug busts and insurrections of varied kinds. The jester routine wore thin. The maverick became the caricature, and then some kind of Buddha for the sixties generation of aging optimists.

And Kesey welcomed all monikers. He didn’t have a name for any of it. To Ken Kesey, it was just life worth living until the end.

The end always comes too soon for the hearts of fire. I have another copy of Cuckoo’s Nest somewhere. Maybe I’ll give it to my godchild, Nicole when she’s fifteen.

The world needs more wonderfully dangerous, confused lunatics.

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What id Belief? – Infamous Gonzo journalist, James Campion comes clean.

Aquarian Weekly 8/8/01 REALITY CHECK

WHAT IS BELIEF?

Hello Mr. Campion,

I’m a faithful reader of your column and I’m impressed by your political sensibilities. However, I do believe that your nihilistic approach to politics can sometimes be off-putting. Do you have any beliefs at all, other than professional cynicism?

Michelle

Dearest Michelle,

It is rare that I respond in print to a letter or note, not because I don’t appreciate the mail or the responses, but more often than not they do not warrant a direct answer. Opinions, like rectums, are a key part of everyone’s make-up. The only difference between myself and a great many of my readers is that I’m paid to put my opinions onto paper once a week in some sort of coherent fashion, which is not always the parameters for those we confront daily on our highways, at our jobs, visits to market or late at night in our favorite watering holes.

Yet, each of them has an equal right to their own truths. Some even change or reform them with age and experience. A great deal us with credos and haircuts in our youth begin to redefine the world we’d pigeonholed years before when faced with the inevitable nagging pains of loneliness, poverty or ridicule. Age has a way of filling our heads with contradictions. Black becomes white with the passage of time. That is if we choose to accept this new reality, which a good portion of society refuses to do, regardless of the heaping evidence to the contrary.

Oh, how boring this planet would be if all of us just stuck to our guns and forged ahead regardless of the consequences, to which there are many and varied. But these roadblocks can spur on serious contemplation, leading to a more evolved thought process, which may or may not elevate us to an almost pristine level of understanding.

We are nothing more than fragile creatures possessing the audacity to convince ourselves of invincibility.

It is in that seminal moment when maturity gives birth to clarity, which allows us to fully realize our flaws. We are nothing more than fragile creatures possessing the audacity to convince ourselves of invincibility. We nurture this insatiable need to fool ourselves into thinking we can exist without forgiveness, love and guidance, and that although we’re yanked from the womb kicking and screaming alone and end up in the ground in the same fashion, we’re still all finally measured by those who’ve benefited from our empathy.

A teacher friend of mine once mused that it is easy to have a philosophy, the difficulty lies in living it. Concepts and ideas can sometimes define people when they’re often unsure what they believed in the first place. Cradling strong beliefs over a few drinks with a woman we’re trying to impress or a professor we hope to influence is far different than wrestling with the results of them. That is why most of us shy from offering our true beliefs out loud or even allowing them a prominent place in our conscience.

This brings me to your question of my beliefs.

I have ignored many, if not all, of the scenarios presented quite adroitly in the previous paragraphs. It has never been particularly important for me to have anything resembling a strong philosophy or belief. Those things are transient, like standing at a railway station and hoping to get to Detroit by taking the nonstop to Philadelphia. I want the next train that pulls in to head in my direction, but no matter what I believe, the damn thing is going to Philly. It’s a train all right, but not the one I hope it will be.

Let me get more confusing.

You mentioned politics in your question. And as much as I appreciate the plaudits regarding my sensibilities to the political culture, I cannot admit to the label of cynic. I am intrigued, even at times mesmerized, by politics and the people who inhabit its rocky terrain, but I have no real use for it as a solution for anything binding or true. Looking for truth in politics is boarding that train to Philly and expecting to end up at the Union Depot in downtown Detroit.

The word cynic denotes an air of skepticism. Contrarily, I strongly believe that human beings, especially male ones, have shown time and again, an amazingly consistent inability to govern themselves. This comes from a narcotic known as power, which has a debilitating symptom called money. Sometimes these gory stimuli work in reverse order. But inevitably, these drugs and its fallout fell the best and brightest, and those who were barely qualified for dogcatcher find themselves with money and power and the rest of us are forced to pay attention to them.

Ah, but I spent far too much space on politics and sociality and avoided the key question: What do I believe?

I believe in Friday conversations with my father and Saturday morning calls from my brother, and when the shit storm swirls there is no one I want in my foxhole other than Phyllis Mary Campion. I believe in the possibilities behind my wife’s eyes and her laughter when I’m pissed. I believe in 2:00 a.m. on Bleeker Street with a good cigar and a frozen Margarita. I believe in The Simpsons. I believe the rock song hasn’t been improved since the Suicidal Tendencies “Institutionalized”. I believe the ’78 Yankees was the best sports team ever. I believe in those incredibly inspiring, chaotic run-on Jack Kerouac sentences. I believe God is more easily defined by infants and cats.

And I believe I’m done.

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james campion.com

Aquarian Weekly 6/13/01 REALITY CHECK

DISMANTLE THE FCC

The following Memo From The Reality Check New & Information Desk was sent to the E-mail of Jason Hillery, program director for KKMG-FM radio and faxed to the general manager of Citadel Broadcasting, Brenda Goodrich on 6/6/01. The crux of the diatribe centers on the $7000 fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission on the Colorado Springs station for playing an edited-for-airplay version of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.” The FCC’s reason for slapping a fine on a nearly two year-old record that had previously received enough television and radio airtime to become a number 1 record is that it “contains unmistakable offensive sexual references.”

To The Faithful,

Under no circumstances should your company pay a cent of that fine. In fact, instead of a check or money order forward this message: “Listen, you pusillanimous, non-elected bully freaks, there are well-attested cases on the books defending our right to air, print and utter material of a shocking or offensive nature due to the cryptic, if not, wholly ambiguous laws pertaining to indecency. And if you would like to press this issue further we can take this grade-school extortion and place its merit in federal court where you will be exposed as the illegal puritan sounding board you have always been, hopefully rendering these cushy jobs of yours obsolete.”

I won’t need any credit for penning it. Do with it what you will; edit the damn thing or put your own sentiments in. I’m not even sure I understand the details of your particular case. Perhaps you went to a day care center and blasted the song a hundred times over the intercom or you had a contest for five year-olds to do their best rendition. I’m sure you had your reasons, all of them stemming from ratings or advertising revenue, but it really doesn’t matter to me nor should it to anyone culling a check from the federal government or certainly some shut-in house wife with a valium jones and a Jesus fixation.

The important thing here is that you NEVER SURRENDER. Put up the fight of your lives or just be another stepping stone to the dark ages revisited. Your time as “Magic Radio” playing all the hits is over. This baby is CNN quality news now and since it reached the Reality Check News & Information Desk red-letter box, it has now become a front-page First Amendment imperative. The term “lightning rod” applies here. Time to take off the goofy radio banter hats and strap on a fucking helmet, because it will get ugly before it gets better.

Of course you could pay the fine and let this thing die out like your peers at a radio station in Madison, Wisconsin. Maybe lay-off a few troubled souls and cut back here and there to save face. You can ignore the fact that the right of the medium and the artists it exploits is on the block right now. What are a few grand and a spin monkey SUV giveaway contests to distract the locals really going to do to affect the future of basic American freedom? That would be easy, and easy is what puts money in the bank and keeps the rotary club and church types from painting you all as back-alley pornographers.

But that is no option. Not for this fight or this right, and not for these times. Lenny Bruce didn’t get run through the courts for nearly a decade so you can back down. Certainly those poor bastards at Lexington and Concord didn’t get blown to unrecognizable pieces for you to slink into a corner and forget your duty. Remember Berlin in the mid-30s’ when putting the “right message” across to the “right people” meant a wonderful playground for all who kept walking the “good” path?

It is time the FCC and the occasional frightened peon with too much time on their hands become non-factors in the grand scheme of democracy, and its time you make it happen. Do you want Colorado to forever be known for John Elway and the home of unsolved mentally abused child murders? Okay, so not many of us remember Elway much anymore, but you get my drift.

It’s time to put your state, your medium, and every decent law-abiding artist and listener on the map by simply telling these anonymous trolls to take this weak-ass subpoena of the sublime and cram it repeatedly up their collective rectum.

Then, when you inevitably win the case in a sane court of law (anywhere outside of Los Angeles) you can lead the brigade against this insidious group of power-mongers who sit in judgment of free speech like it was given to them from a lake in Camelot.

Put yourself on the culture map. Show some guts. We’re all behind you over here in the hub of true journalism, where the weak are sent whining back to the classroom and those hung up on following rules are reminded that nothing worth a shit in any civilization was achieved without the ever-dangerous maverick approach. And nothing has ever been changed without a fight, and it is time to get downright nasty with these sons of bitches. Make the government reveal names and positions and give the American people a guideline on free speech to debate and appeal.

Someone has to do it, why not you people? Once, the pioneer spirit pushed west and opened Colorado through heinous crimes against Native Americans with illegal and violent activity. In that demented spirit, let’s ferret out the guilty and shed the glaring light of reason on their sheltered heads. Fire the first blow in this smoldering coup de tat by refusing to pay an illegal fine used to separate us from our liberty.

Always On Guard,

jc

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Explaining Robert Downey Jr. & Other Related Mishaps hypothesizes on the drug culture.

Aquarian Weekly 5/16/01 REALITY CHECK

EXPLAINING ROBERT DOWNEY JR. & OTHER RELATED MISHAPS

There are scores of bloodthirsty terrorists sitting on billions of dollars of crude oil and mounds of cocaine, using a host of major Middle Eastern cities and foreign aircrafts as violent political targets, that do far less time than Robert Downey Jr. He is unlucky. He is stupid. But he is far less guilty of anything as heinous as 99% of the people he’s shared his years of incarceration beside. He cannot even be considered a world-class drug addict by latter 20th century standards or even those in the 19th century who lived normal, even respected, lives in high tax brackets with worthier vocations than actor.

Of course the drugs Downey has a problem with are the recreational kind, not the billion-dollar prescription industry of pills dolled out in alarming tonnage to the elderly, infirmed and mentally unstable. The lucrative partnership between the medical community and the criminally avaricious prescription drug lords is another issue for another column. To dissect that line of painful waste needs a journalist with a larger paycheck and sharper typing skills.

No, these are not even the drugs of the middle class teen hipsters with their Ecstasy and marijuana, playing experimental rodent for a culture of MTV Pepsi-heads, addled with angst and hormones and trading oral sex like baseball cards with meager parental allowances.

It is every generation’s immutable law of rebellion to stir the cauldron until either death or, worse still, maturity robs youth of its spirit. From the whiskey bottle and Budweiser can to the bubbling bong and hobby glue, kids have been stealing away for the odd brain-numbing escape for eons, and all the “Just Say No” campaigns will never change that.

And those who hypothesize the genetic, pre-disposed, inherent dangers of the drug addict are missing the larger point about Downey and his ilk. Drugs come easy to Downey’s sensibilities and physical make-up because he can afford it. He has the kind of free time and cash most of us work our asses to the bone trying to compile so we can conjure new and exciting ways to entertain ourselves.

Let’s face it, the reason the middle class exists is to keep self-destruction to a minimum. If 90% of us had Downey’s money and fame we’d be lucky to stay alive for a month. I’ve personally witnessed, and occasionally contributed to, dangerous acts of treacherous debauchery for less than a grand a head. The money and time Downey’s dealing with inevitably leads to the type of behavior that cost Rome its earthly lease, and much can be learned from their super-human gluttony.

Downey falls into the category of misguided invincibility, a character whose life is an episodic limit strain of fearlessness. Drugs and alcohol are merely symptoms of the illusion. Using his case as an example of drug abuse in this country is like comparing your eighth grade composition to “The Great Gatsby”.

It seems Robert Downey Jr’s biggest problem is his inability to handle a fucking high. There are people reading this right now who know full well that it takes special drugs to get you to wander into a stranger’s house and crawl into their kid’s bed.

There are far more typical types of insatiable drug grazer.

The first of these are persons with Nothing To Lose because of economic, societal or mental handicaps. They cannot view the world with a sober eye because it holds only pain, anguish and failure. We see them on our street corners and in our schools. We’d like to help them out, but they’d only crawl right back into the bottle or grab the pipe and we desperately need to upgrade our computer and watch Survivor.

Then there are the unfortunate Dumb and Bored types, who spend money they don’t have in order to destroy a life they should be kissing the ground to maintain. These are the least interesting and less publicized druggies because they are our neighbors and friends; coke- heads, burnouts and boozers, whose life is downtime to ingestion.

We know them, and, to varying degrees, we ARE them. Most times the best we can say about these people is they’re fun, to an extent, then they become annoying, and then we don’t answer their calls anymore.

The rest of us spend the bulk of our time throwing slogans and solutions at recreational drugs, including alcohol. We oft times conveniently miss the clear correlation between drugs, guns and art. All three have been accused of causing damage, the first two for obvious reasons, and the third, for less, but far more intriguing ones.

Those heralding the right to carry firearms love to espouse the theory that guns do not harm anyone, people do. Yet they love whining about a War On Drugs. Others claim film and music tear at the fabric of morality, yet ignore their kids, except to fill them up with patriotic and religious dogma worthy of science fiction.

This brings us back to Robert Downey Jr. and the age-old question of environment. A raging alcoholic, living in a land of world-class drug abusers, raised Downey, and as he has cited in many interviews, Downey’s father handed him a joint in preadolescence and that was that. A child does not know instinctively that to “get high” is to escape reality or expand the mind. The child also does not know what is evil or fun or dangerous or illegal.

It is not merely genes or environment that lead Downey, or anyone, to the level of addict. Downey’s father fucked up and now we spend a good deal of our time wondering about the drug problem when it comes down to a Robert Downey Jr. problem.

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Challenging The Verizon Gestapo: A Study in Technological Fascism

Aquarian Weekly 4/4/01 REALITY CHECK

CHALLENGING THE VERIZON GESTAPO: A STUDY IN TECHNOLOGICAL FASCISM

“Always read your phone bill.” -The Mighty Chief Wonka

These con job fuckers at Verizon have gone too far now. And it is my duty, nay; my birthright to notify any unsuspecting slaves of corporate tyranny, and detail the doom technology has wrought. And despite spending decades decrying the demise of Ma Bell, and the litany of useless drivel being spewed in the name of the evil long distance carrier, the time has come for all out war.

Verizon represents all that is wrong in the cold realities of a world where the conversation has taken a backseat to E-mail and the beeper and the voice service drone issuing in the goddamn tone.

Don’t let those television ads that parade a wide spectrum of humanity abusing the sanctity of the peace sign to signify the global Verizon village snow you. That’s the first sign of the brainwashing technique, like hamburger slop-pimps at MacDonald’s peddling saturated plastic fat as food and the cheap soda pop barkers at Pepsi hawking toxic chemicals mixed in syrup as hip youth elixir.

Manipulating the media is Fascism 101. Mesmerizing images set to soothing and recognizable music, providing a sense of comfort and excitement, is something I learned to abuse in the first fifteen minutes of an introductory college advertising course. Verizon’s vision of freedom from an antiquated society with billion dollar Big Brother methods that suck every penny from gluttonous communication spoiled prisoners, is run-of-the-mill Madison Avenue crap, practiced daily by the shoe-shine mentality of power-ties in conscience limbo.

I’m usually not thrown by these training-wheel methods, or even simple corporate rape, but the moment Verizon bought out “everything phone” in the area of the Putnam Bunker some months ago, and the district goons at Putnam County Central changed the area code with little warning, I’ve been forced to confront them.

Verizon’s first move was the arbitrary dropping of my MCI coverage without notification or prompting. Consequently, I was charged the maximum penalty for calls down the block.

Needless to say, it is always an adrenaline jack to have a 200% increase in the phone bill. This brings the obligatory caustic phone calls to Verizon’s “customer service”, which now consists of four hundred phone bays run by trebly computer voices and a series of infuriating key-pad punching exorcises.

This pointless maze of numerical combinations finally put me in touch with an operator in Tucson, Arizona, who would love to help, but has trouble locating New York on a map with anything less than a two-out-of-three guess ratio. When someone answering to the title of supervisor finally took over he directed me to MCI, whose people know nothing of area code changes, but proceeded to charge me up the ass for every second of use just the same.

MCI blames the whole thing on Verizon for storming in and forcing their hand. MCI reps seem to think that Verizon’s foray into long distance service has caused a sabotage war, taking consumer checkbooks as casualties.

But I’ve had issues with MCI since they decided it a cute idea to send me bi-monthly bills so they can use my pre-payments to help meet a decade of lofty Michael Jordan/Warner Bros. advertising contract pay-offs.

After days of foul language and rising blood pressure, MCI credited my account through Verizon, prompting me to cancel all connections with long distance. But unbeknownst to the layman, the degree of difficulty in blocking long distance service rivals splitting the atom or getting an AP reporter to pay for lunch.

No less than three times Verizon requested an independent third party confirmation to enforce the block, and then ignored it, leaving a detailed message on my answering machine claiming they could not enact my order without a third party confirmation.

Resisting the urge to split my cat’s skull with a five iron, the fourth try it went something like this:

Verizon: Hello this is Fwad (last name deleted) at Verizon customer service. How may I be of service to you?

jc: I’m on to you Fwad, you and your whole rotten operation. No simple procedure is this fucked up time and again without someone in charge pulling the strings in the background. I know how this works, bating and switching, feigning stupidity and transferring blame. Promises were made Fwad, reputations on the line.

Verizon: If I can just have your name and phone number, area code first, I can assist you.

jc: Don’t try to break me with cryptic requests. I’ve been through this with other militant factions, like those negligent layabouts at Burke Heat, who run soot through your ducts for six months and tell you to buy the filter yourself, while all the time they play Russian roulette with my gas line running discharge through the oil exhaust.

Verizon: I’m sure I know nothing about any Burke Heat, sir. If you’d just give me…

jc: Yeah, I give you my number and the next thing I know my vital information is in your master computer’s data base somewhere and I’ll be force fed Verizon propaganda until my death. And why do you tape these little conversations, eh Fwad?

Verizon: To better serve you in the…

jc: I’ll tell you, to play with our minds. I just punched my phone number into the computer, then you ask for it again? And why do you need my social security number or my date of birth? I became a tad suspicious when I was asked for a blood test after questioning a simple service charge once. And what the fuck are these hidden taxes, Fwad?

Verizon: What seems to be the exact problem, Mr. Campion?

jc: Now you know my name? And if you know my name, why do you need my phone number?

Verizon: Sir, what is it I can do for you?

jc: Please, in the name of all that’s holy, block my line for any and all long distance access. I don’t want anyone to be able to make anything beyond a toll call on this line, ever!

Verizon: You do realize Verizon offers affordable rates for long distance, and if you sign up now…

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Who Killed Napster? dissects the murder of free music.

Aquarian Weekly 2/21/01 REALITY CHECK

WHO KILLED NAPSTER?

Appeals will come and go. They inevitably do. But for the record, at least the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals version of it, the freebie cyber music fest known as NAPSTER is history. You’ll eventually pay a fee for the service of downloading music, unless you scramble to the countless other places popping up daily. However, life on NAPSTER, as we have come to know and love it, is over.

I say love for I too have enjoyed its guilty pleasures, and despite being an artist who sells his wares online and elsewhere, I have used the excuse that I shouldn’t have to spend nearly $20 for one song, or I’m searching for out-of-print stuff some company has deemed unworthy, or I dig getting bootlegged material that the artist would never get a penny for anyway. It’s trading, after all. It’s just trading with millions instead of a few.

Industry types always panic when technology comes calling. Television was supposed destroy the movie industry. The audiotape sent big wigs from record companies to every court in the land trying to put a stop to that egregious threat to profit and power. Then it was the VCR and its looming danger to everything holy. All the clichés about money should be thrown into the mix now with NAPSTER. Somewhere someone is getting something for free, and goddammit what are we even here for?

There are certain realities that rear their ugly head when people get happy at rebelling against evil corporations, who arbitrarily jack-up the prices of items because they know damn well you’ll pay it. Artistic endeavors, however silly they may seem to the average American, are difficult enough without “free” being added to the equation. Musicians are told most of their lives they won’t amount to shit, so when they are the shit, they don’t let go of it easily. Despite Limp Bizkit’s wild and crazy apathy about NAPSTER, they’re in the same boat as Metallica – crusaders against NAPSTER for artists’ rights – because if no one pays them, they have to get real jobs or steal car stereos.

Yes, artists take a hit, at least established ones, because many unknowns now cheer NAPSTER for putting them on even ground with the huge bottom line distributors who need only the latest fashion and Britney Spears and could give half a fart about some punk outfit in Wyoming or a funk band in Greenwich Village. Sure record companies pony up the cash on nobodies (studio time, videos, limos, drugs, groupies), music publishers protect their rights (undermining, suing and threatening) and distributors have to take their cut (bullying, paying off teamsters and squeezing every cent from moguls) and music outlets, both online and in stores, need a little taste (protection against thievery, advertising and sandbagging the locals), but eventually the consumer takes the financial hit. No company is in business to lose money, at least those not run by the Beatles, and when a compact disc costs three cents and is being retailed at $17.99 it’s hard to feel any sorrow.

So we download like crazy people, to the tune of 50 million to date, and an estimated 250 million songs were downloaded the day before the second ruling last week. Programs and cd burners make it all-too easy to get this stuff from Lil’ Johnny’s collection into our car stereo; no stores, no annoying people telling you what you have to like and none of your money going bye-bye. You don’t have to listen too hard to hear the fear burning through the heart of the record industry, although, ironically, their collective profit margins broke records last year. The vocation of making tons of money off of someone else’s talent may be in serious trouble, but the present statistics don’t bare it out.

Perhaps like free-agency in sports, the new landscape will seem like a victory for human rights, but may end up screwing us in the long run. NAPSTER, and all it stands for, feeds our insatiable appetite for immediate gratification. Think about it, if you could anything for free that isn’t technically stolen, wouldn’t you consider it?

Right about here I usually start spouting rude comments about how the whole phone system in this country is fucked thanks to the dismantling of the evil Ma Bell, but instead I’ll use the space to remind those in need that anytime the government gets involved in matters of mammon stuff will be broken, and not easily fixed. Regulation is a horrible word in big business, until the public starts getting too much value, and then someone has to put a stop to it. Of course, it’s that type of thinking that eliminated cocaine from Coca-Cola’s ingredients.

But I digress, because all we’re really talking about here is rapacious talent sluts taking the fall for literally a tune. Now those seven-figure agents tooling down Hollywood Blvd.and mainlining Ajax for the right to rape some kid rapper on the East coast will have to give up the condo on the Virgin Islands because some poor sap wanted to download a dumb ass Metallica song. Meanwhile the same agencies are trying to subvert the right to even make those records in order to allay the fears of mid-western PTA drones, who spend quality church time riling up senators to halt the work of Satan.

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Underground Rave Beatings! goes to the mat for violence against stupidity.

Aquarian Weekly 2/14/01 REALITY CHECK

THE TRUTH ABOUT WILLIE & THE UNDERGROUND SHARKS

“The Hammerhead, they say, is no different today than he was in One Million B.C. He is a ruthless, stupid beast with only one instinct–to attack, to hurt & cripple & kill.” – Doctor H.S. Thompson

I received a letter recently, which appeared in this space last week, complaining of my association with a modern renegade known to my readers as Willie. It went on to site my “exploitation of criminals” in order to fill columns. As an example, the author described in detail a beating his friend took at the hands of Willie during what he described as a rave in downtown Manhattan. Then he managed to heap the vicarious blame on me. I could not vouch for the veracity of that particular incident, but it was not outside the realm of possibility. If fact, knowing Willie’s considerably savage track record, it sank comfortably in the cushion of plausibility, but my connection to this is still hazy.

It is true that in the nearly four years of penning this column Willie has provided me with several rather interesting, if not dangerous, news stories. As discussed here last year, some have thought him a figment of my imagination, a metaphoric tool used to dismantle a variance of subjects ranging from drug abuse to racism to violence. And although I would love to take credit for any satire, Willie is all-too real.

But to apologize for his behavior or the “exploitation” of it would only be hypocritical. As a journalist, admittedly a rogue one at that, people like Willie are a necessary evil, and perhaps it is going too far labeling them evil in the first place. Evil is such a vacillating concept in the world of hard news, even out here on the fringe. This is, after all, a new age of acceptance and forgiveness, where reverends embezzle and father a love child, Super Bowl MVP’s are ex-cons and IRS accountants crawl off to the White House with a .38-caliber revolver and a dream. Our most revered artists are weak and flawed and our politicians reach new lows daily.

Evil is so ambiguous now we must attach the word HATE onto the front of CRIME to further accentuate its heinous nature. By that logic a punch to the head of a gay man is far more damaging than one to a heterosexual. Defining evil now is only a matter of creating compound sins and clever chants, but fingering it is a far more difficult endeavor.

As for the alleged “rave beatings”, it is only fair to point out that beatings at these things are a dime a dozen. Many kids who gobble Ecstasy find a good beating a welcomed enhancement to the high. There is nothing better than breaking the chains of well-being and peace with a fine stomping at the hands of an anonymous madman whose only purpose in hanging around in the first place is to doll them out like Easter candy. More of these flopping cretins should be beaten, people like Willie might say, like cell-phone drivers and those dipshits who sue tobacco companies. And who would argue with their freedom?

The underground is filled with natural-selection beasts like Willie, and so are politics and Wall Street and suburbia for that matter. He is the bully, the boogieman, the great equalizer reminding everyone that humanity is not the home of compassion, but the result of brutal evolution, where the strong and maniacal unleash their frustration on those who might live under the illusion that they are somehow more refined or “better” than the rest. We shouldn’t shun or fear them. The idea is to befriend these mutants, pull them close to your bosom and mother their intentions, or at the very least, bring a notebook and study their habits.

This is what the police do. The undercover gig is a popular one on the force. A NYC detective told me recently that most busts take months, even years to set up, and for every dick forging relationships with the beautiful people, there is a reporter on his rolodex waiting for a scoop. To his credit, Willie isn’t on anyone’s payroll and would sooner stomp the life out of a narc than turn state’s evidence, which doesn’t seem to be a problem for pikers like Ray Lewis or Puffy Combs.

I first met Willie in Brooklyn in the early 90s’, and anyone spending quality time there learns quickly that twisted bodyguards are not to be scoffed at. Are we supposed to ignore places like Brooklyn, or should we hunker down and live on the edge, make it our homes if just for experiment? These are the questions my little letter-writing friend flippantly mocks with righteous blather in hopes to guilt those of us who’ve traded in such silly twinges of emotion for a press card.

This is tantamount to those reviewers of my first book writing that I glorified alcoholism. Perhaps they skimmed through the thing, like most lazy critics, and skipped the consequences of what I was experiencing, choosing instead to make blanket statements about people living in an “onerous vacuum.” Those are the same mumbling whiners who wrote that “Deep Tank Jersey” was fiction. But unless you live in the game, it is hard to record it.

Willie is the game, just like any other creature you might cover as part of what journalism invites. At every level, from presidents to crack heads, it is all about the story, and after writing enough of them it is hard to differentiate between George W. Bush and a man lying in the gutter violently puking on himself. And for a columnist, mountainous men gobbling Viagra and demanding to see “black folk” in Denny’s or pounding Margaritas while burning through EZ- Pass booths, constitutes a story. Certainly a Darwinian nightmare skulking in the rave shadows and looking to pounce on unsuspecting wild-eyed teens in the dawn hours says more about that culture than any cover story in Time. My only regret is I wasn’t there to record it.

Either way, the deal goes down and the story gets written, and those who get paid are paid. Some people would say I’m the one being exploited, but Willie would never write anything like that.

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The Death Of Wall Street

Aquarian Weekly 1/10/01 REALITY CHECK

TRIMMING THE FAT FROM THE FIRE

“But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence; the least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.” – Lord Byron

The year 2000 was a shitty one for Wall Street. Not to say that it was in the level of shit as 1987 or even 1929 when words like Satan and suicide ran roughshod through the high rollers and slander and begging became the hobbies of the day. No, 2000 was merely shitty, and to hear the econo-lads, dressed in their power suits of armor tell it, there hasn’t been a follow-up year since 1945 that hasn’t blossomed from such a healthy dose of fertilizer.

Money, after all, has legs. It learns to bounce and has survived much worse hits. So they tell us the sun will indeed come up tomorrow and 2001 could prove historical for all the right reasons. Meanwhile, the best and brightest sell off their heretofore fortunes like seized property at an IRS auction.

Many don’t even know it yet, but losing that much money that fast leaves a sort of pale, sunken hue to the collective face, a powerful grip on the intestines that rips up into the brain and gives off the false sense of endorphins.

The dotcom revolution, as most revolutions, has had its share of martyrs. Many have abandoned their once unsinkable vessels and traded their Mercedes for a first class ticket to a remote corner of Peru where a 12″ hunting knife and the industrial-sized can of mace are worth more than a team of accountants and stammering coke fiends masquerading as stockbrokers. But the poor souls still left to breathe in the foul stench of defeat instead choose to smell wondrous roses. They send memos to press offices everywhere decrying the hint of bankruptcy and speak of world peace as if it is attached to an affordable airline ticket.

But they lie. Many don’t even know it yet, but losing that much money that fast leaves a sort of pale, sunken hue to the collective face, a powerful grip on the intestines that rips up into the brain and gives off the false sense of endorphins. The painful result of this is chairman and CEO of Priceline.com, Richard Braddock blathering on for 40 uninterrupted minutes of MSNBC airtime throwing out vapid concepts like “liquid funds” and “projected upswings” when he should be quoting from the heavy passages of Revelation with a .44 Magnum pressed to his temple.

Exactly one year ago Amazon.com founder, Jeffrey Bezos was Time magazine’s Person of The Year and 20% of the ads on the all-important Super Bowl list, snatching a record $2.2 million for 30 seconds of CBS network time, were web sites. Four months later those same companies reported 70% loses. By spring tech stocks took a monumental beating and the word last summer was that the formally entrenched Internet-business wave had hit a terminal low tide and the wounded prognosticators, who once laughed at the steady oil market, were watching in horror as the see saw tipped hard.

It was about that time when my discussion with Wall Street Jovial’s Dave Gahary hit the stands, (“How The Gravy Train Skids” Issue 4/19/00) and the demented Internet publisher ended one of several doom-struck diatribes with the now infamous quote, “Very little about the structure of the stock market could be considered legitimate,” which rings more true today than it did 13 months ago.

Politicians like to use the word Recession when things get as bad as they have been over the past ten months. Jimmy Carter liked to use that one while people were trading brass-knuckle blows on mile-long gas lines and the American dollar was a worthless scrap of toilet paper abroad. Carter didn’t survive that kind of ugliness. He never heard the piper’s dirge. People close to the numbers know what went down then, and they damn well know now that unless the government starts drilling every inch of Alaska gas prices will not resemble anything called normal before Memorial Day. And in its wake whatever lunacy the George Bush administration will be running past Congress in the way of a $1.3 trillion tax cut will seem like slapping a band-aid on a severed head.

Three days before sending this to press a colleague described to me the current NASDAQ disaster as “fake money being poured into a vat of speculative horse dung”, implying, I believe, that a whole lot of people can presently feel comfortable referring to themselves as first-class suckers being fleeced by the age-tested “get-rich-quick” scheme. This scenario had been laid out quite nicely by Internet Week’s Bill Frezza last April with “The Rube Effect”, a neatly described con devised by the excitable voices on the other end of the telephone who convince Johnny House Payment that hillside bungalows in Malibu are ripe to be had for someone possessing “the balls to go and get it.” Frezza compared the doomed 1980s’ bond market to the tech stock boom of the late 90s’, but with the utmost respect for Mr. Frezza and PT Barnum, suckers have been around since humans could scrape crude drawings on cave walls, and they are, without question, an integral part of any solid economy, yet they are not sufficient excuses for such a swift and savage decline in profits.

Junk bonds and illegal backbiting hardly explain away several years of growing profits and perennial companies jumping onboard the information highway like frat- house drunkards road tripping. This was a real boom, not some Harold Hill morality scam, and there is a long line of the “smart people” who will argue that point, if you can get them on the phone between bale-outs.

One of those is the venerable Father Finucane whose been vaguely impersonating a man of the cloth for nearly a decade while gambling with trusted yuppie funds and cashed savings bonds. The good Father’s answer to this mess is simple, but effective. If the law of nature is chaos, then roll with it. No reason to argue with circumstance when it is clear that God’s plan is to close doors while opening others. To that end he has devised several plans revolving around dynamite and vacant ATM machines with “light security.” He is a maverick in a land of followers and his days among the free are numbered, but he is right for these times.

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Last Night They Shot John Lennon

 

Aquarian Weekly 12/6/00
REALITY CHECK

LAST NIGHT THEY SHOT JOHN LENNON

Editor’s Note: The following are the thoughts of the author in the wee hours of December 9, 1980, the morning after John Lennon had been murdered.

“I heard something ’bout my Ma and my Pa They didn’t want me so they made me a star” – john lennon

Last night they shot John Lennon. Wrapped him up like the world’s present and played his songs. Holding their hands to befriend him. Last night they shot John Lennon.

The journey from icon to martyr to idol is a short one. Usually this means a truncated existence filled with wonder, success, fame and the misinterpretation of one’s intention wrapped neatly into a package of innuendo and lies. It has been less than three hours since John Lennon was gunned down in front of his home, in front of Central Park, in front of the world. Before long this man-cum-icon will be remembered for being the nucleus of a movement, a revolution, a cultural hiccup on a planet of revisionists. His circumstance had been like few witnessed before. But would a lonely boy from an impoverished dock town on the Northern coast of England have traded it for another minute of life?

John Lennon outlived Jesus Christ by seven years. He once said his rock group; The Beatles were more popular. Were they more popular because the Son of God never sold a million records or played Ed Sullivan, although mania and idolatry also followed Galilean carpenters = water to wine = top five singles on the Billboard chart.

And if God were a man and he could pen something akin to “A Day in the Life” and make us shutter, or perhaps sing “Imagine” and piss a few more of us clamoring humans off, would that have given him immortality? Would John Lennon still be alive if he’d chosen to huck freight or been a fisherman? Can we expect John Lennon to rise from the dead?

There are many reasons to believe the 60s’ died last night… the decade, the meaning, and the emotional effect of a million souls that were severely injured by Altamont and Viet Nam and Watergate. John Lennon’s band was more popular than all of those things, so much so that many who called it the crowning achievement of 20th century pop art wanted a revival. John Lennon agreed to revivals of the past only when everyone returned there. “The Beatles will get back together when every goes back to High School,” he promised. That is when the 60’s died, with the sex and the war and the exploitation of “All You Need is Love.” But most of all, the 60s’ died with innocence.

When I was a boy about fifteen. I could hear the static pumping. From within my treasured room it sent my heart jumping. I forget what they call it now. Since then people don’t say much. Sometimes they say nothing at all. At least when I was young and angry I would never fall. I forget what happens now.

He was the orphan thug from the streets, spit out by his absent father, abandoned by his dead mother and rescued by the cute boy with the crudely tuned guitar and the Little Richard wail. Paul McCartney was the brother John Lennon never had, but Elvis Presley was his iconoclastic parent. “There was nothing before Elvis,” John Lennon said. Let there be light and music and anger in the glow of beer lamps and the breath of gnarled hookers where the boys rip and tear through black music from the States–youth on the edge and building strength in the German ghetto where the children of war met.

We called it Beatlemania. There were the haircuts; boots, suits and a money machine going to the “toppermost of the poppermost”, a place John Lennon believed laid the medicine for wounds. He looked for healing in fame, money, drugs, Eastern religion and a woman named Yoko. He put the same determined angst of his youth into love and invented philanthropic culture in song. “We all shine on” he wrote after Beatlemania and “God is a concept by which we measure our pain” because screaming about pain is better than inflicting it.

This is what being more popular than Jesus Christ gets you.

And the givers of the golden ring taketh away. They hated him. They hated him for not being who they had made with their own bedlam. They hated his new wife and they hated his new music and they hated his new politics and they hated his new haircut. Anger turned back on original ideas and art is nothing new in civilization. Ask Socrates. Ask Picasso. Ask Beethoven. Ask Lenny Bruce.

He moved to New York because it was a metaphor for his pain, his muse, his sanctuary from all this mass hatred and love, this phony symphony of celebrity that has little to nothing to do with art or the artist. Georgia O’Keefe went to the desert, Ernest Hemingway retreated to Cuba, Charlie Chaplin was banished to Switzerland and Beatle John and his Japanese wife moved to Manhattan. Cradled in this urban madness inside his head, he escaped the spotlight for five years to raise a second son and resurrect his spirit.

Then he came back outside the shell and made songs. “Just like starting over,” he wrote, and then one of the echoes of Beatlemania entered his cocoon and fired four pistol shots into his hero’s back. His name will be infamous, his crime more so, but he is only an echo.

This is what you get for being more popular than Jesus Christ.

Last night my heart stopped jumping.Last night it just sat and cried. Just when I thought the tears had dried. Last night some dream ended. Last night they shot John Lennon.

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james campion.com

Aquarian Weekly 10/4/00 REALITY CHECK

COMPASSIONATE CENSORSHIP

The concept of parenting in America is dead. The government of the United States is taking over the job. It needs to protect your children from your incompetence and allow the rest of us without children to sacrifice our freedom of choice and expression to accomplish it. Publicly funded organizations manned by non-elected officials will judge what is obscene and indecent in the films and television you watch, the music you listen to and the literature you read. It will be done with the best intentions to help protect you from yourself and save children from the increasingly large numbers of people incapable of doing the job themselves.

The entertainment industry, pejoratively referred to as Hollywood among these caring government officials, their wives, their church and whomever might want to join in, is too violent, too aggressive in promoting their product to your children, and far too lucrative in its endeavor. You do not have a clue what is out there ceaselessly pummeling your poor family and is sure to set impressionable, young dupes on a course of ultimate drug abuse, violence and godless acts of antisocial behavior.

These conscientious hard-working watchdogs of our best interest need you to know that although these efforts may cause some diminishing returns on your legal right to produce, write, create, listen, read, or god-forbid, consume this poison, it is all for the greater good. Teamed with our morally pristine government, they strongly believe we have lost the grip to decide these parameters ourselves. We lack the capacity to judge what each of us would like our children to know about this big, wide, wonderfully diversified world or what that small, but incorrigible set of demons are trying to cram down our meager throats. There are limits that have nothing to do with you or your ability to parent your offspring. This burden will be taken from you and be handled by the caring services and public officials you financially support weekly in order to take on this impossible responsibility.

Please do not be alarmed that many of these fine officials and organizations are also partially funded by the same entertainment industry they fight to the tune of millions of dollars a year. This proves they do not serve their masters. And although your hard-earned tax money, and alleged voting rights, puts them in the position to take on this glorious crusade, it is a mere droplet in an ocean of their cash and influence.

To review thus far, you give up part of your weekly pay to a government that needs to control your lifestyle in order to shelter the innocent and attack its ultimate expression, because you have no time or inclination to do it yourselves.

Here are some constants in their theory:

Television is evil. By exposing fragile minds to its brainwashing techniques there are risks to the foundation of our otherwise beautifully structured society. Our peaceful, loving planet cannot be infiltrated by the disgusting display of fictitious mayhem peddled as mere yuks to the great unwashed and poorly educated masses. Remember, you are weak and stupid and instinctively dangerous when confronted by these images and concepts. We must rely on these fine organizations led by our morally bonded government to curb this maniacal march toward certain destruction.

As bad as the insidious television gremlins are, the demons in the film industry are one hundred times worse. Movies are the bane of our republic. The minute they are curtailed the air will be sweeter, crime will diminish and a hug will be so much warmer. It’s important to understand that according to our censoring heroes, most films, especially the sex-and-violence ones, can systematically chip away at the spiritual core of this perfectly balanced country of law-abiding citizens and the honest integrity of its civil servants. The criminal element writing, directing, producing, acting, editing and distributing meaningless garbage as art are nothing more than minions of Satan diluting our natural propensity to nurture humanity while polluting our simple minds.

Doubly troubling is the apathetic theater owners and their untrained employees who will now also join our heroes in parenting your children. It will be incumbent on them to follow all minors around multiplex theaters and make sure they enter the movie they paid to see, assuming the new and improved soldiers in the army of righteousness card everyone looking to get into the theater in the first place.

Finally, there is music, especially popular culture music with its loud anti-establishment, anti-authority, free-sex, pro-violence, beat-oriented message of anarchy. If there is one reason your children cannot be controlled it is this corner of Hades. Your kids don’t care what you say or think because of it. They do not respect your responsibility to mold them into perfect robots of a society devoid of emotional problems as long as it resonates in their virgin ears. This wondrous land, with its tolerance and empathy, is being systematically punctured by distorted rock bands and hip hop lyrics. This will be a doomed generation of zombies if it continues to be exposed to this cesspool of anger and lust.

The good people running this courageous flag up the pole want you to realize that you can no longer train your children to be normal bastions of the American dream without the deconstruction of every art form available to us. They are animals and brats and aim to injure the other animals and brats with their walkmans and skateboards and loose-fitting pants, their Internet and concerts and wildly available porn. You are incapable of warning them, curbing them, explaining to them the irreversible anguish caused by professional wrestling and video games. God help us all, we need these inexhaustible champions of the vapid throngs to topple the first amendment and bring order to the chaos of this great republic before you people damage it any further.

Thank you PMRC and FCC, Empower America and the Federal Trade Commission, the Gore’s and the Lieberman’s, Lynne Chaney and Jerry Falwell. And, most of all, thank you United States government, for your discomfort with freedom is only equaled by the size of your misdirected paranoia.

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