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The Iraq Papers Volume I

Aquarian Weekly 11/30/05 REALITY CHECK

The Iraq Papers Part I THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE’S NEW CLOTHES Learning to Jog Naked on the Endless Treadmill of a Winless War

American Soldiers The following is the first of five segments tying together the loose ends of a fantastic cargo of misinformation, propaganda, media hype and revisionist history surrounding what is now being erroneously dubbed the worst war effort in the 229 years of this republic. Today we’ll lay the groundwork for our series by saving precious protest/debate time believing and/or fighting for the current administration to unfurl, discuss, or merely make-up an exit strategy.

The piper, as the nifty allegory goes, is due. All doubt has been expunged. Whatever hopes and plans and flag-waving, ribbon-tying nonsense that has been perpetuated by the most blindly optimistic pom-pom gripping homers, they are now null and void. The jig is undeniably up, the check has been cashed, and every last chicken has settled home to roost. The Iraq War – Desert Shield in all its gory incarnations has now outlived even the direst doomsayer prognostications offered up by the least likely peaceniks of yesteryear. And there’s no end in sight. Not with this president, or any president who ordered the thing up.

It is beyond him now to stop it. Too late. And it wouldn’t have mattered if John Kerry had been elected a year ago either. It didn’t matter when Tricky Dick took the reigns from the tattered remains of LBJ. History is our greatest source. Been there. Done that. Got the tee shirt. Once the United States of America gets its teeth into an invasion, occupation, police action, whatever, it’s in for the long haul.

You think the Yale Boy doesn’t know he’s already sunk? His only chance at being painted by history as anything less than a war mongering dumbstruck goober is to blindly deal into an inside straight or even a royal motherfucking flush!

So when people ask you why the vermin are presently leaving the sinking vessel, so to speak, you just tell them any breathing mammal worth a shit knows when the cabin is taking on too much water. It’s a doomed proposition. Instinct tells you this. Pure instinct. Not fact or intellect. Vibes. This baby is screwed. Totally fucked, or as the marines like to say, FUBAR – Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. That’s what we got here, ladies and gents, a full-on, hardcore FUBAR. And no one’s going to be able to click their heels and make it back to Kansas or Texas for that matter, regardless of what well-meaning congressmen say now.

Specifically we site Pennsylvania representative, John Murtha, a decorated war veteran, who spent 37 years of his life serving as a US Marine, and, who last week, after years of support for this mess, including printed records in his own book as late as a year ago, told his commander-in-chief we have to bring the boys home…right now! God bless him, he’s at least willing to admit he made a mistake voting for the war, plugging the war, going to the mat for our Boy President and our nation’s best stab at foreign intelligence. But he’s a silly man and he has lost his mind. Psychologists call it Temporary Paralysis of the Reasoning Functions. My father calls it Shit for Brains. Either way, he’ll be fine, but for now he’s a crazy man.

Try and remember if you can delve way back to the winter of 2002, this was invasion an easy sell. Everyone was on board, most importantly, the American people. Big time. Well over 60%. Close to 70%. Then came congress. Over 90% was it? An overwhelming vote for war. The CIA was hot with info, the Pentagon was breathing hard, and the press sat around saluting everyone and wearing American flags on their lapels. It was a slam dunk, to offer a tired quotation. Sure, maybe a few European nations were barking, a few college kids and folk singers, but even Ted Kennedy said Saddam Hussein had to go.

Oh, and by the way, let’s not leave out that the man won a national election 12 months ago and defeated an opponent who supported the war.

So why should the president abandon ship?

He has everyone on record as being enthusiastically for it. Didn’t have to sneak around like before Viet Nam or push embargos like before World War II or institute Marshall Law like before the Civil War. Marched right into the United Nations, which, despite later vapidly disingenuous protestations, passed an ironclad resolution to oust a dictator who did not comply with international regulations. Made a few speeches, showed dramatic slow-motion replays of planes crashing into the World Trade Center accompanied by haunting melodies, and whipped the remaining pansies out of the Oval Office.

Why should the president pull out now?

Even if the whole shebang has been deficiently planned and horribly executed, coupled with mounds of misinformation and bad predictions coming out of every orifice of his cabinet and the Pentagon and his generals, why should George W. Bush quit now? If he does, he loses. Presidents are not used to losing. In fact, they’re immune to it. This is how they become presidents. The very notion sends them into a diarrhea-induced rage. They spit and whine and twitch spastically as if cornholed by a 5,000-volt livestock taser.

But if the president stays in the game long enough, keeps slamming money on the table – he has a shot for the big cash-in. You think the Yale Boy doesn’t know he’s already sunk? His only chance at being painted by history as anything less than a war mongering dumbstruck goober is to blindly deal into an inside straight or even a royal motherfucking flush! Imagine that. Land on his feet like Mr. Magoo or the Boston Red Sox. Get lucky, if just once. Stay alive long enough to fall ass backwards into fortune.

But if the president leaves the table, he gets nothing. And right now Junior is one of the most unpopular presidents since Ulysses S. Grant. But he isn’t a war hero or even a decent drunk, and, most of all, he doesn’t have to get re-elected. Good luck.

Next Week: WHEN GOOD IDEAS ARE EXECUTED BY DUMB ASSES – Debunking The Myth of the Iraq Mistake

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Lay Off The Catholics

Aquarian Weekly 4/20/05 REALITY CHECK

LAY OFF THE CATHOLICS

Pope John Paul IIMy favorite thing about this 24-hour harangue of televised and radio-addled news commentary and coverage is the hyping and lauding over an event until the marrow is sucked dry and then we’re left with the inevitable backlash. We’re experiencing this now with the passing of Pope John Paul II. I’m pretty sure the funeral is finally over. I could be wrong. It might still be going. Like Reagan’s interminable send off these things seem to take on a life of their own like David Blaine living in a box for weeks.

But assuming they finally buried the Pope, after weeks and reams of praise and plaudits and tributes, we get the “The Pope Was A Misogynist!” “The Pope Turned A Blind Eye to Aids In Africa!” “The Catholic Church Is Atavistic Voodoo!” The Catholic Hierarchy Excuses And Harbors Known Pedophiles!” All predictable, and, I might add, asinine. Not nearly as asinine as claiming the Pope or Ronald Reagan’s lunatic arms race or kids holding hands in a quilt or some such bullshit ended communism in eastern Europe.

All together now…

COMMUNISM IMPLODED BECAUSE THERE IS NO MONEY IN IT.

I have written that in this space more times than the “F” word, and man, that ain’t a little.

You see what people don’t get is that religion, specifically organized religion, and in the case of the Vatican, a major league powerful, billion-dollar world altering religion has to have strict – balls to the wall – dogma to exist. Some of it acts as a sound guideline. Some of it stinks with antiquity. Some of it is wacky. Some of it borders on sacred. The Catholics are silly with this stuff. Believe me, I was one. But it is not for us to deride. It is their deal, and the Pope, although this one was quite the traveler and commentator on world events and as progressive as Popes go, was the infallible mouthpiece for the church’s dogma.

I dug this Pope, for the most part. His written apology stuck in Jerusalem’s Western Wall for eons of anti-Semitic actions, murders, and other mayhem at the hands of the Roman Catholic charges is one of the most humbly sympathetic and mind-altering gestures performed by any human in the 20th century. And when he was shot by that crazy Turk, and then healed up and came back and hugged him. That was downright Jesus stuff. Not the Jesus Christ Jesus, but you know, the Jewish ascetic from Nazareth. Forget it.

Anyway, as far as Popes go, this one was brilliant, charismatic, and widely influential. But he’s the friggin’ Pope. The Catholic Church is NEVER going to allow women priests or advocate birth control or lean a little on the abortion issue, or sell their own priesthood – the backbone of the religion – down the river for a few deviant scum. It’s like the mafia or the NYPD. They take care of their own.

You don’t like it, don’t join, or get out! Suck it up! It’s a religion.

I don’t like to see a cardinal who shielded known pedophiles preside over a tribute mass for the Pope anymore than I like to see a murderer like Ted Kennedy as an acting senator or ex-cons like Ollie North hosting debate shows on cable. But, hey, it’s their gig. I wash my hands of it, and whatever they want to do is fine with me.

This tidbit of angst came up last year when I got a ton of mail telling me I was being flippant about this gay Episcopal bishop issue. Remember that craziness? So I repeat: you want to be gay, use condoms, be a woman with equal rights to perform ceremonies, or get a pound of flesh for people diddling your kids, then go somewhere else. You’re not Catholic then. Find a new thing. People do it all the time. There are tons of faiths out there, and mostly, they’re pretty much the same crap.

This is not like politics where you can have a pro-choice Republican or a pro-war Democrat. It’s not likely they’ll be invited to the monthly weenie roast, but why not? It’s fun, keeps the democracy thing on its toes. But this just in: Catholicism is a theocracy.

When I read or hear these outcries against certain religious tenets I cannot help but consider the source for the 9/11 disaster. It was the failure of this country’s leaders to see the lunacy of fundamentalism, in this case Islamic. This is not unlike the voting public failing to see that their president is a religious fanatic – if he really believes this nonsense, of which I’m not totally convinced. But let’s just say George W. Bush really believes Jesus Christ told him that God wants us to free Iraq. I’m pretty sure he’s said this in major magazines, but maybe I was drunk. What now, tootie?

You see, we are so anesthetized to the rhythmic din of faith as mania we hardly notice when people leaping around in burkas in the middle of nowhere leads to crashing planes into our buildings. But it’s real. And that’s when things must be debated or, in some sober cases, bombed into oblivion. With the Catholics, it’s basically; they don’t go in for the gay/condom/woman deacon thing. And, really, who believes young boys claiming they’ve been violated?

I blame the Pope for none of it, especially John Paul II. He was The Man. Jeez, he had the two names that reek of Christianity – St. John, the guy responsible for all those signs at football games, and St. Paul, the guy responsible, let’s face it, for the football games. The Pope represented the dogma to the end. He did his job, for which you cannot make the same assessment on about two-thirds of this abysmal government of ours.

You don’t like it, don’t join, or get out! Suck it up! It’s a religion. How would Major League Baseball like it if the commissioner one day decided that everyone should use tennis rackets and head directly to third base upon hitting safely? Or how do think the NRA would react if the new director made some kind of statement to the effect of “Guns are bad” on national television tomorrow? Hey, how about if the immigration department just let thousands of illegal aliens march over the border daily and the federal government granted them driver’s licenses? Yeah, how’d you…

Oh, right.

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John Kerry Reports For Duty

Aquarian Weekly 8/4/04 REALITY CHECK

Democratic Convention 2004 G.I. JOHN DIGS IN

John Kerry For 50-plus minutes last Thursday night the Democratic nominee for President of the United States ended four long days of bashing, cajoling, revising and challenging from every spectrum of the party during its Beantown convention, finally setting a course for battle over the next 90 days. When considering the amount of cable, network, internet and radio coverage all over the planet, and the relative ambiguity of his primary platform, this may not only have been John Kerry’s most important hour, but arguably the most dissected speech given by a presidential candidate ever.

And although it was not Ronald Reagan in 1980 or the first JFK in ’60, it put a little meat on the bones of the Kerry campaign and transformed the otherwise vagueness of his vacillating messages that so far had all but added up to “I’m not Bush” into a viable street-fighter mentality needed to force a debate this fall.

After the usual spitfire incoherence of Ted Kennedy and Al Sharpton, the overly contrived shill of Senator Rodham and the expected bombastic brilliance of a Big Bill rally-chat, a fine piece of oration by Illinois senator, Barack Obama and a wildly overrated presentation by the vice presidential candidate 24 hours earlier, Kerry burned through four key segments of what his people believe he will need to defeat a man who barely knocked off the worst campaigner this reporter has ever seen or covered four years ago.

The overwhelming key to Kerry’s coming out party was his military service. No less than ten times by my count the Massachusetts senator roused the locals by referring to his experience as a foot soldier or his sentiments blooming from such a position or his sympathy for the present-day soldier or remembering his fellow Viet Nam soldiers. Beginning with a salute and his announcement that he was “reporting for duty” immediately put the onus on his toughness in these tough times to which the Bush people believe they have erected a kind of monopoly upon.

This puts the expected White House backlash on the defensive for no other reason but its administration’s assistance that everyone must, regardless of opinion “Support the troops!” Well, for half of his acceptance speech, the one that would finally define him to the American people, John Kerry effectively announced himself “One of the troops!”

Somehow Kerry has managed to erase hundreds of hours of sound bites bloated with anti-war rhetoric from his youth, the likes of which seemed to galvanize the Democratic base during the primaries and co-opted the Howard Dean movement to the tune of comeback victories in Iowa and New Hampshire and a burial of Dean. Taking the mantle from the opponent seems to be this man’s style, and that bodes well for victory in this stinking arena.

The second, and not without merit or coincidence, Kerry hammered home images of hope from every corner of populist-speak. Not unlike the 2000 Al Gore snoozer that actually zoomed a 15-point spike in the polls, Kerry read a laundry list of impossible federal programs from (ho-um, here we go again) the ever-popular Universal Health Care to Middle Class Tax Breaks and “hit-the-rich-corporate-devils” commentary to the gauche but always effective swing-vote middle America tap dance of a united, free and working country.

For half of his acceptance speech, the one that would finally define him to the American people, John Kerry effectively announced himself “One of the troops!”

Yet Kerry was also able to invoke a sixties mentality, an almost Hippy-Messiah kind of mantra with “We believed we could change the world. And you know what? We did. But we’re not finished. The journey isn’t complete. The march isn’t over. The promise isn’t perfected. Tonight, we’re setting out again. And together, we’re going to write the next great chapter of America’s story.”

A bold slice of Baby Boomer Pollyanna to say the least.

The man who voted for NAFTA having the balls to shout about halting the export of jobs to other countries has the ring of winner written all over it. Where Gore failed to realize the sick genius of Big Bill, the Kerry people fully understand its importance to political survival.

These first two points has given root to what you will be hearing, seeing and enduring from this campaign over the next three months and it has to scare anyone working for the Bush campaign because the “All-Things-To-All-People” stuff worked gangbusters for Al Gore, and everyone with half a brain knows if he wasn’t hated by most of the voting public he would have waxed Captain Shoe-In with it by Labor Day. Believe me, several key members of the Bush 2000 staff told me as much on several occasions when I warned them of Gore’s power to promise the moon for a vote.

The third point of the Kerry speech, which was without argument a speed-reading exercise to take advantage of primetime network coverage, was the aforementioned “I’m Not Bush” portion. The sign of a serious contender is not forgetting what created your candidacy in the first place: The other guy’s pathetic performance while in charge. For there is no doubt that every re-election bid ever conducted has been a referendum on the incumbent, and this one reeks of it. John Kerry is not too proud to admit, “As long as I’m not George Bush, you have to at least consider me!” The very reason John Edwards is the antithesis to Dick Chaney, physically, emotionally, ideologically, metaphysically, and the perfect reason to invoke the idea that after 9/11 this country was all together in a support group and somehow the Bush administration managed to ruin it.

Last but certainly not least, because the brand spanking new nominee closed with it hard, John Kerry has put out the united front of taking the high road, laying down a positive, touchy-feely gauntlet for the next few crucial weeks when the Republican machine will try and gain a foothold into whatever bump this convention may hold by lambasting him on his flip-flop, liberal mess of a voting record.

To wit: “My friends, the high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And that’s why Republicans and Democrats must make this election a contest of big ideas, not small-minded attacks.”

This way Kerry can gain a measure of momentum from something like a Michael Moore propaganda film, while not being straddled with having to defend its aggressive stance. After Moore, for whom I’ve had a good relationship from afar through his lovely wife and his always-passionate and humorous satire, was taken apart by Ted Koppel the other night, Kerry would be wise to take any road that lets the other guy gut Bush like a prize fish and reap the benefits without the inevitable embarrassment.

Every pundit across the land waited for John Kerry to either fall flat on his face or rock the foundation of this election season with his acceptance speech, but on the final night of the Democratic Convention, his first real moment in the spotlight, he did neither. What he did was set up an interesting scenario by which the attack must now come to him rather than from him, and if so, perhaps at a cost for his opponent. He told us he is a soldier who cares about everyone from every walk of life and affiliation and who is not the other guy because that is what being the opponent is all about and when you get on board with it let’s remember to play nice.

John Kerry may still be a blurry image to many of the voting public, but he is now at least an image, and one that the president will have to contend with and not easily brush aside any longer. The Liberal who wants to jack up the military and raise taxes for your financial relief has spoken.

Good luck fighting that nonsense.

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JFK Assassination 40 Years Hence

Aquarian Weekly 11/26/03 REALITY CHECK

BIRTH OF THE CYNICAL AGE
Perspectives on the JFK Assassination 40 Years Later

John F. Kennedy“We stand at the edge of a New Frontier – the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. It will deal with unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.”
– John F. Kennedy

suddenly in sunlight he will bow and the whole garden will bow
– ee cummings

Forty years ago this week the 35th president of the United States was brutally murdered in broad daylight. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses lined along the execution route. It was the first openly documented incident of the television age. Yet after volumes written, debates raged, and the endless dissection of that day’s events; the countless hours of legal wrangling and propaganda, documentaries and tributes, cries of conspiracy and calls for clearer heads to prevail, we are no closer to one accepted truth on the identity of the assassin.

However, this humble missive will abstain from piling on to my mother’s brilliantly snide, “Who Didn’t Kill JFK?” mantra. Instead, its aim will be to put into perspective what this seminal moment in American history has done to the landscape of my generation, and all others hence.

I was 14 months old when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. I recall growing up in the Bronx with its effect still palpable years later, especially on its anniversary, when cars would drive all day with their headlights on, flags were flown at half mast, and school teachers regaled us on where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

Almost immediately, apart from its war-torn history, no human drama had better crystallized America – its psyche, its message and medium, its resolve and destiny quite so completely and violently as what transpired that overcast autumn afternoon in Dallas, Texas.

On the level of raw emotion, there is something everlasting about a person of such limitless potential, power and celebrity cut down in his prime, forever frozen in indestructible youth, like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, or if Elvis Presley or Mickey Mantle had not gotten old and fat and drunk. It is a glowing tribute to dying young, before your time, unfinished business; no closure, no definable answers.

On broader levels, the severing of a head of state from its body politic is a trauma akin to the disorientation experienced by a living organism thrown from its normal environment into one of total confusion. This is especially stunning when a leader so distinctly engrained in the id of a free society leaping into an age of mind-bending change is slaughtered like a farm animal. As a result, what had been previously confined to certain pockets of metropolitan bohemia and smoky cafes or college campus conclaves; bitter dissent, counter-culture rage, a desire for eradicating atavistic symbols of tradition exploded into the mainstream throughout the ensuing decade of enormous unrest and social revolution.

People hate their deities to turn out mortal.

Like no one before or since, the image of Jack Kennedy was the epitome of 20th century iconoclasm. He represented the visionary generation, bloated with dreamers; always saying what needed to be said at the right time with the right cadence. A mutation borne of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, perfectly molded for his times and fully capable of rising above the petty tragedies of mortality to manifest infinitely.

Kennedy was the first American president born in the American century, a hero in its greatest of wars, rising from the dark annals of its recent past. He had come from mysterious money like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby; a raucous American invention of questionable origin feeding off the decadent opulence of rabid capitalism. The second son of an ignominious father with his bootlegging millions and international intrigue, mob connections and dirty-scoundrel 19th century fortunes, JFK wore the mantle of promise like a mighty amour.

The gargantuan political Kennedy machine devoured miles, blazing trails beyond the stuffy, buttoned-down plastic, two-dimensional Eisenhower cocoon. From the moment of his emergence into the public eye, JFK was sold as brilliant living color. In the campaign for president, this fit perfectly against the grain of Richard Nixon’s stony black and white.

The two entered the senate in the early 1950s’, one from the dirt and grit of Californian poverty, the other from a New England golden chariot. Nixon stood for the pillars of America’s past; God and country, mom and apple pie, a Quaker in his lily white victorious post-war splendor. Kennedy represented uncharted territory, a young, bold Irish Catholic, a playboy, tan and brave, how all of America liked to think of its new decade. He was poised to strike forth from Hollywood illusions, fearless in the face of fast-changing times and the Red Scare. Contrarily, Nixon was the angry pit bull of the Eisenhower administration, reeking of passé dread.

The legacy of 11/22/63 is that America was never innocent, only blind, deaf and dumb to realities best kept hidden by more soothing fables of princes living happily ever after on streets of gold.

But despite all the revisionist history about Camelot and “a land of hope and dreams”, Richard Nixon, and not Jack Kennedy, won the 1960 presidential election. But Daddy Kennedy stole it outright. Everyone knew it, but did not care. It had always been the American dream to bury the past, look to the moon, beyond the endless horizon. Every revolution has its causalities. Dick Nixon may have been Camelot’s first, but not the last.

Jack eventually paid for the sins of his father, the notorious Joseph P. Kennedy, with his life. He entered politics for the old man, won the Pulitzer with his connections and influence, became a senator from Massachusetts against all odds, and muscled into the role of youngest elected presidential at the age of 43.

There are always debts to pay for any man of power in a democracy fraught with dangerous ambiguities, but as president, Kennedy added to them by taking on the mechanism of government, the silent assassins in the CIA, the swollen power of the FBI, the imminent threat of the Soviet Union, and the fumes of Harry Truman’s Cold War.

Bullied by Nikita Khrushchev and haunted by Fidel Castro, Kennedy signed away an empty check for Viet Nam to solidify South East Asia for generations, and set the course for his successor, Lyndon Johnson to build into a decade of war. Ironically, Kennedy’s victim, Dick Nixon, became its benefactor and finished the decade of the 1960s’ by plunging the nation into a cloud of paranoid madness.

Mostly, the truncated Kennedy administration – a mere 1,037days in length -uncovered the demons of our government; the stranglehold of the Pentagon, the sinister nature of spying and assassinations, and the rabid abuse of the Bill of Rights by J. Edgar Hoover and his ilk. It also set the course to shine light on the Civil Rights movement, pushing the kind of sweeping legislation not seen in this republic since the Reconstruction a century before.

Mere days after November 22, 1963, the United States government may have appeared to roll along relatively unaffected, but the nation dimmed considerably. Whipping up the laughable fictions of the Warren Commission, escalating the fighting abroad and insulating the powers that be could not erase the sudden realization that the endless skyway of the New Frontier did, in fact, have tolls, and they were steep. The fabricated marketing of idealism and the voracious appetite of post war America dove into a quagmire of brutal truths about the vicious nature of politics. No one seemed to know anymore who or what was running things. One thing became evident; JFK had been just another piece of a bloodless machine eradicated like a spare part.

Doubts about the conduct and make-up of America’s best and brightest would fester throughout subsequent years of presidential screw-ups including Viet Nam, Watergate, Iran Hostage Crisis, Iran/Contra, Monika Lewinski, and now the furor over Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It has been chic to blather on and on about America losing its innocence in that most violent moment forty years ago, a rebirthing of cynicism and a wariness about the definition of justice, and the gnawing questions about who holds the reigns of the richest and most powerful nation on earth. But the legacy of 11/22/63 is that America was never innocent, only blind, deaf and dumb to realities best kept hidden by more soothing fables of princes living happily ever after on streets of gold.

Eight presidents later the reverberation of 11/22/63 continues to quake the nature of news, politics, fear and vision. The New Frontier came apart like a house of cards and no Age of Aquarius could make it right. And all the Baby Boomer rhetoric about privilege and promise plays out quite nicely in the horrid memory of invincibility being shattered by bullets on a gray noon.

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The Battle For Civil Liberties After 9/11 – A James Campion Special Report

Aquarian Weekly 3/6/02 REALITY CHECK

BATTLE LINE AMERICA

I think it’s important to point out that Donald Rumsfeld has gone insane. His Meet the Press, 2/24/02 appearance frightened me in ways that is hard to discern at the moment, but suffice it to suggest that he is clinically mad and currently has the power of two Caesars and Benito Mussolini thrown in for good measure.

No American citizen should have to suffer through anything like that without a network banner warning or a scrolling marquee underneath. Jesus, I felt like those crazed farmers after the “War of the Worlds” broadcast for most of the morning before a phone call from Georgetown jerked me back to reality.

“See that beautiful maniac, Rumsfeld?” he said with preternatural glee. “Goddamnit he’s good.”

I only broach this because my concern is always with national interest and not with the radical impulses of the foreign press. Rumor of the Pentagon leaking false stories doesn’t alarm my journalistic sensibilities, mainly because I sold them not long after college for a case of Genesee Cream Ale and a moped. On the contrary, I believe the more unstable the voice, the better.

It is apparently not bothering enough Americans that the events of 9/11 has given the government a free reign to slowly turn this country into subtle forms of marshal law, an Orwellian spectacle of never ending military missions and infinite wars.

There were times when the loose-cannon approach served Ronald Reagan well. The Soviets viewed the Reagan people as capable of anything, and that’s how Ronnie liked it. UN officials were sure the president would burn the planet to cinder on what they dubbed his more severe “incontinent days”. And by 1986, Muammar Kadafi found himself waking up in the middle of the night soaked with sweat and screaming about John Wayne gremlins gnawing on his testicles with nightmarishly penetrating fangs.

Ordinarily appearing on a network news program as a jabbering lunatic would be advantageous during times of global crisis, but it appears that Rumsfeld is making major decisions on restructuring civil liberties under the auspices that we are perpetually under attack. With the preponderance of this latest blind national acceptance of anything that comes down from the Pentagon or the FBI or the CIA these days, we had better be damn sure those signing off on them aren’t frothing at the mouth.

I don’t believe Rumsfeld is aware that he is loosing his mind, and he doesn’t appear to be merely a blubbering ass like Jesse Helms or Ted Kennedy. Normally, I would blame his behavior on “interview stress”, caffeine overload or bad briefing, like someone forgetting to remind the Secretary of Defense that the Pentagon has been bilking the American people since its inception, and it probably isn’t a good idea to try and sell mercenaries as choir boys on holiday when the red light is on over the camera.

The truth is there is a quagmire in Washington now that will be hard to siphon with one session of congress or one election, and since the secretary of defense is appointed, and not elected, and the current commander and chief is going nowhere, we are confronted with serious issues.

Some congressmen have already begun running for reelection by blaming the slag economy on the millions a day we’re spending on super jets cruising New York Harbor and the circumference of the Beltway. Others take credit for riding the wave of sudden hysteria into what will no doubt mean the kind of military spending that drove the national debt into NASA proportions during the 80s’.

But it will be hard for Democrats to get a sniff while this near untouchable Texan cowboy is mucking up the oval office with letters to the parents of kids who keep getting charred on senseless military missions or the pink slips for “special agents” who were pulling down six figures a year not to find Osama bin Laden.

It is apparently not bothering enough Americans that the events of 9/11 has given the government a free reign to slowly turn this country into subtle forms of marshal law, an Orwellian spectacle of never ending military missions and infinite wars.

Anyone whose career is dependant on the outcome of the next phase of this “war on terrorism” have to believe that if there is no concrete move on Iraq by summer’s end it becomes an ever harder to sell to the American people, the crumbling Arab coalition and the Pentagon itself.

Rumsfeld’s Sunday morning television stint notwithstanding, there is a certain air of John Mitchell bluster to his press conferences that set off alarms here at The Desk. This “holier than thou” Vince Lombari shtick has gone from wonderfully eccentric to annoyingly pedantic. His snide remarks broke up press row when Afghani caves were being smoked daily for two months, but in the glare of this latest military hiatus they sound like juvenile smoke screens.

Meanwhile Muslim women are being molested at airports and any protest against racial profiling is suddenly a hint of un-American activity.

Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, has taken that title to filter every possible panic the FBI sniffs to the point of hysteria. Of course there will be threats at major events, the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics, a Britney Spears afternoon jog. But what Americans don’t know is that this has been happening for decades, and because your government failed to protect us initially, we are stumbling toward a third world police state.

What September has done is raise the level of terror, its exact directive. Now we may be living in terror of our own government.

And this is a government currently being run domestically by attorney general, John Ashcroft, Ridge and Rumsfeld and Pentagon officials who have been on an unnatural level of readiness for six months. This is apparently too much pressure of for these boys, and if not, they really ought to prepare their spokesmen better.

The press cannot be trusted to uncover the truth on any of this. The news channels have been reduced to beauty pageants and piss fights between the left and right, and the New York Times is now soliciting unmarried freelancers to cover Middle East events since the video slaughter of Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl.

It is not a safe time to be an editor and chief when the good reporters are asked to stand down and wear flag pins and the freelance warriors are taking their lives in their hands just showing up for work.

For me it will be a comfortable ride, and I will not be swayed. I’ve fortified Fort Vernon and put the cats on full alert. And thank the gods of journalism I cloak myself in this weekly column so I don’t have to work press conferences or damned piker leads any longer.

Oh yeah, and my wife’s bullhorn privileges have been suspended until further notice.

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Democratic National Convention 2000 – Political satirist, James Campion exposes populist bullshit.

Aquarian Weekly 8/30/00 REALITY CHECK

Democratic National Convention 2000TINSLETOWN LOONEY TOONS

The call of equal opportunity, two-party system insurrection rears its putrid head. So, we plow ahead and dip below the machinations of the Democratic Party’s showcase for renewed morality and heralded economic prosperity with one who makes this dreary mess his home, my number one Dem insider, Dibbs.

jc: It doesn’t bode well for the party when there are highly publicized riots in the streets during a Democratic convention. Last time that happened was in ’68, and an eight year Democratic run ended.

DB: And we were stuck with Nixon.

jc: Whose bright idea was it to have Rage Against the Machine play in the parking lot, and then have the always dumbfounded LAPD shut down the lights and tell the crazies to go home?

DB: Maybe it has something to do with the mayor of Los Angeles being a Republican.

jc: Vast right wing conspiracy?

DB: Hilarious. Where were the reports decrying that fiction the Republicans were peddling in their ridiculous television promo of a convention. All that crap about “inclusion” and medicare, healthcare and social security revisions that we’ve been trying to pass through that damn GOP-ruled congress for the past six years. Are they kidding with that junk? Bush has the nerve to drone on for over an hour about how the Clinton administration has dropped the ball on these issues. And then these goons on the FOX channel and Robert Novak tell us that the only reason the economy has been roaring for the entire stretch of Clinton’s term is because of the Contract of America? What the hell is that if not blatant hypocrisy and taking credit away from those who are due it?

There is still a solid contigent here who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Gore or any of those people wanting to hang onto the White House at any cost.

jc: Granted, Clinton’s speech was on the level of “old soldier’s never die”, but between that film of him doing everything but pulling a baby from a burning wreck, his pro wrestling entrance, and 50 minutes into the thing without ever mentioning the vice president, how does that exactly help Gore.

DB: He is quite simply the best public orator this country has produced in over a century. Setting the record straight is more important to Gore than reinventing himself.

jc: Was there much flack from the White House on the “first-night-and-out” demands from the Gore camp?

DB: At first I think the president was looking at this from the standpoint of paybacks. In the end Gore implored him to go out his way, but do it fast and early.

jc: Regarding Lieberman’s speech, how do you think morality boy sleeps when he u-turns on school vouchers, eliminating affirmative action, privatizing social security and glossing over attacking pop culture to appease the convention’s liberal wing?

DB: You can’t bash Lieberman.

jc: Too late.

DB: It was a gutsy pick. Before this convention there was defenitely a sense that the liberal wing of the party had been luke warm on Gore, especially with how he went after Bradley in the primaries and choosing Lieberman to balance the ticket, but they pulled up the reigns and came full force by Tuesday night. I was with Ted Kennedy and a bunch of his Massachusetts people before he came out to speak, and all of Caroline’s “new frontier” references had him stoked. No one I talked to had seen him that pumped in some time. I was frankly surpised. That night, with Bradley et al, it became the liberal contingent’s attempt at equal time.

jc: But doesn’t Lieberman’s subjigation make your skin crawl?

DB: There was never any love-loss between Clinton’s centrist ’92 run and the party big boys, but who cares? Bush’s move to the center alienated all those conservatives who couldn’t get to speak while Colin Powell and John McCain were gumming up the works in Philly. There is still a solid contigent here who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Gore or any of those people wanting to hang onto the White House at any cost. There were times this past week when I felt like this was Reagan’s last stand back in ’88 when half the GOP wanted to string George Bush up, but couldn’t stomach the thought of giving up the strings. Things were alot more divided around here until the GOP convention started looking like new democrats revisited.

jc: You were talking tough back in March.

DB: It looked like McCain wasn’t backing down. Christ, I thought the man was going to demand recounts. We had him pegged as some crazed Perot guy who would jetison all the independents who hated the Gingrich dupes to Gore. Never happened.

jc: Gore is down 42% with independents.

DB: The debates will change that.

jc: How do you define these entertainment geeks like Cher, Ron Howard, Sean Penn and the Balwins coming out full force for a ticket with two humps who’ve painted Hollywood as jesters for Caligula?

DB: The alternative is damaging tax cuts and a stranglehold on women’s rights.

jc: The rich love tax cuts.

DB: All the more reason why those people should be commended for backing the right horse.

jc: Who was more stiff at the podium, Hillary or Karenna Gore Schiff?

DB: We all felt bad for that poor girl.

jc: Her daddy makes toast.

DB: No comment. I thought Hillary was fair.

jc: About Gore’s acceptance speech…

DB: Saved the day.

jc: A grade-A populace speech in the grand tradition of Harry Truman. The man promised everything but a cure for cancer and free beer.

DB: Gore is a policy wonk. He knows it and so does Bush. That is why the Republicans are jamming everything but ideas and policy down our throats. Gore spread a system of government out that was real and sober.

jc: That’s funny. I used the words, “phony” and “surreal”.

DB: It signified the strength of this ticket; working America against corporate interest.

jc: A man who stands before me on the strength of tobacco money crying about special interests and large corporations is unconscionable.

DB: We expect to cut halfway into this paper lead and take that empty-headed goon, Bush apart in the debates.

jc: If you’re not within 10 points by Labor Day you’re going to need a Bush screw-up.

DB: We’ve already factored that in.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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ABOUT THESE PROTESTS

Aquarian Weekly
5/8/24
 
Reality Check
 
ABOUT THESE PROTESTS

No one supports the idea of waving a fist and shouting random musings in large groups against aggression, suppression, and general bullshit more than me. This is what this space has been about since August of 1997. I’d prefer, of course, to keep it to the words and not risk getting tear-gassed or hit with a projectile in a mob of submentals, but you get the gist: I’m into protests. The First Amendment is king around here. And even if the occasional thing gets wrecked, it happens, you deal. But as I watch these recent campus protests against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza or what some are calling “Pro-Palestinian” fervor or “Genocide Joe” outrage against President Biden, I can’t help thinking there is a theoretical disconnect in America’s role in this.

This is not Viet Nam where hundreds of American kids are coming home weekly in boxes for a nonsensical and morally corrupt war based on a lie or even Iraq, another hoax-induced military faux pas, which turned into a clusterfuck of corporate malfeasance wrapped up in vengeance and ad hoc world-building that lasted two decades. This is more than a half-century of fiduciary and ideological commitment to the Middle East’s only democracy that has spanned fourteen presidents. What we’re dealing with here is proxy complaints that need some nuance to deconstruct.

Ahhhh… nuance.

kay, so details matter little in the fine art of the protest. The overarching theme is the key. Nuance is not the bailiwick of someone in a ski mask heaving a brick through a window, I get it. But to be fair, if you are going for red-faced righteousness and morally impassioned voice-shredding, it’s important to know what you are protesting.

Now, I do not wish to see a country, especially one bankrolled by us, murdering women and children arbitrarily in what appears to be some half-assed terrorist campaign. I didn’t dig it in Afghanistan or Iraq, which, again was primarily a U.S. operation instead of a foreign investment. And there is no one more dedicated person to the idea of making the clearly insane Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu go away. I was in Jerusalem in the spring of 1996 when he was first elected and there was more than a little concern that he would wreck things. So, let’s say I was quite shocked to see his return to the position in 2009. He’s a lunatic hardliner, who’s now become that nation’s George W. Bush. – asleep at the wheel this past October when all of this started with Hamas’s attack and capturing of hostages and has only worsened things by taking what used to be the world’s most efficient fighting machine, the Israel Defense Forces, and turned it into an armed thug-fest.  

And I think the protestors need to understand that President Biden and our State Department have endeavored to put pressure on Netanyahu, but this is his country and his tactics. Pulling aid is not the answer here, just as the former president’s maneuver of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a religious hotbed of madness for well over three millennia from the innocuous Tel Aviv, was not the best decision to avoid inciting the violence we see today. Also, decades-long support of Israel by corporations or universities being personally responsible for what has happened in the last six months seems pushing it, even for young, privileged kids, who want to re-enact the 1960s. I get that they want some recognition of this abject violence, and the events on the ground are indeed horrific, but, again, there are degrees to which Columbia University is directly connected to the IDF’s war crimes.

And to address the “I don’t want to pay taxes to bomb children” argument. I pay federal taxes to a nation that currently enslaves the bodies of women to which I am less thrilled, but ya know, how taxes go: If you’re going to worry about blood on your hands by proxy, we’re all going to hell, so chill out. Shit, I’m typing this on a device, and you’re likely reading this on one, that was made by Chinese children in a sweatshop for half a dollar an hour. 

It’s good to have some idea what you’re protesting and, most importantly, have an end game: What do you want?

Finally, I think it’s important to point out that anyone who refers to the January 6 domestic terrorists that sacked the Capitol motivated by Trump’s Big Lie as “hostages,” as the current Republican nominee does, cannot weigh in on how “out of control” college students are. That afternoon’s activities and your dismissing it as “a tour” eliminates your credibility on this issue, and you should shut the fuck up. (I am aware of the ironic shift in my “First Amendment is king” eight-paragraph’s ago claim, but although it’s not illegal to be stupid, I nevertheless wish the purveyors of it would go away). This goes for the Speaker of the House calling these protests “nonsense.” Not a good look for the man two heartbeats from the White House and the most powerful Republican in D.C. shitting on the most sacred right we have – but again, he also calls the January 6 people who wanted to violently stop our other sacred right, voting, from occurring. So… there’s that.

Listen up; everyone supports a cease fire. Maybe not Trump, who appears to be all for razing Gaza to the ground, so you can go ahead vote against Biden and elect him, if you wish. Or cast your vote for that loon, Robert Kennedy Jr., who’ll just help get the game show host back in the White House, so he can sign a national abortion ban. Your call. Just know, that way before Netanyahu, and long after he’s gone, the United States must support Israel. As mentioned, it is the region’s only democracy. It’s bad enough we hang with nations like Saudi Arabia that are human rights abominations for diplomatic and financial reasons – a good subject to check out if you’re into all the protesting – this is truly the lesser of two evils situation. Also, it’s good to have some idea what you’re protesting and, most importantly, have an end game: What do you want?

Figure that out, and get back to me.

Meanwhile, it’s not the greatest balancing act to protest violence and oppression by violently oppressing fellow students and faculty and wasting our tax money sending police in there to stop you while you’re busy deciding on a plan. 

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Two Men. A Room. Reliving the Making of ‘Nebraska’

Warren Zanes has written the best book about Bruce Springsteen. His art. His fears. His redemption. Deliver Me from Nowhere: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’  takes the reader from inspiration to execution during a seminal period for one of rock’s icons, while also stripping all the ‘icon’ bullshit out of it. Instead, Zanes concentrates on a man and his guitar in a rented New Jersey ranch chasing a vision of America.

A former member of the early eighties indie rock band the Del Fuegos, an honored professor, and an author of a fine biography on Tom Petty, Zanes once even played with Springsteen as the Boss hopped on stage with his band at some small joint. Interestingly, seeing Springsteen do the same thing in 1981 when he was working on Nebraska, I remember him telling a bunch of us kids in the back of The Stone Pony in Asbury Park that he was cutting songs by himself with a home recorder. What the hell is that? Turns out Springsteen knew as much as we did. He was still learning, experimenting, and making demos, never considering a record, or for anyone beyond management or the E Street Band to even hear it. Zanes reminds us that this is the key to unlocking the raw expression of Nebraska, what I (and Springsteen, too) believe is his finest work.

No one was ever supposed to hear it. That raw honesty is its secret ingredient.

Deliver Me from Nowhere is as uncompromising and introspective as the album it covers, recounting the author’s visit to Springsteen’s current Colt’s Neck, New Jersey residence to comb through the corridors of his psyche, his memory, and method. The two men also visit the humble ranch-style house where it all went down, as Springsteen shares with Zanes the acoustic guitar he used and the infamous painting of his deceased aunt that haunted his childhood and is reflected in the album’s themes.

An engaging conversationalist and true fan of his subjects, it is easy to see why first the late, great Tom Petty and now Bruce Springsteen put their trust in Zanes to tell their stories in such an intimate and revealing way. I had the pleasure to sit down with Warren late last month to discuss Deliver Me from Nowhere, as well as his passion and excitement for the album (and its creator) that still resonates.

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Photo by Piero Zanes

Why Nebraska for you? Why did you feel you needed to write about this record, sit down with Bruce, and get this story out?

I felt some connection, attraction, deep interest in Nebraska, but I wasn’t entirely sure why I felt all of that. I came into this project with a long-term relationship already in place, but I didn’t know what my psychological attachment was to it, and I felt like a book process was going to help me understand that. For one, I didn’t have a complete answer for “Why would an artist at the top of their game, who was poised to go big, go this strange?” You know, The River was Bruce’s first number one record, he had his first top ten single, “Hungry Heart,” and then he makes Nebraska. I just looked at the landscape of artists operating at the level he was operating at and I didn’t see another artist making decisions like that.

The biggest clues came with his memoir, and though Nebraska passes quickly in Born to Run, that road trip that he takes West doesn’t pass quickly. That was where I went, “Wait a second, this happened right after he finished Nebraska?” And it made me think: “Things happen to people… and they make records.” Sometimes they’re lighter experiences, sometimes they’re heavier experiences, but I was sure that Nebraska, on the spectrum of light to heavy, was all the way at theheavy end – and that he described having this breakdown after the fact. I didn’t want to make it a direct causal relationship, but it was hard not to do that. That’s why I wanted to sit in a room with him, and as I expose in the book, I felt likehe got as close as possible to say, “I think that’s true.”

The biggest revelation for me was your positing that he never goes back to his former “self” after this – the whole early Springsteen from the first record all the way up to The River has this arc of a character growing up, escaping his parents, his eventual adult disappointments, divorce, lost loves, and then – Bam! – Nebraska is where Springsteen finds this Midwestern, every-man voice that he uses for the rest of his career to explore stories about hidden demons and economic woe. It’s all there, and you point out in the book a very difficult journey to get there. Nebraska is a story of the ways in which an artist moves. I thought you depicted that beautifully in the book.

I don’t want to overstate the value of my background as a writer and record maker in relation to these projects, but I know it’s in there. And I certainly know that I love the psychological ups-and-downs of record makers and songwriters; it’s such an uncomfortable, euphoric, insightful, lost process. It’s all these things. The more obsessive the artist, the more interesting the psychological journey of making records. I think this is where Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen are part of the same fabric; they really go after records and go after songs. I think they’re two very different men, but I was drawn to the obsessive nature in which they work. The stakes are high for these guys, whether it’s Damn the Torpedoes or Wildflowers or Born to Run or Nebraska

The secret sauce of this project is you and Springsteen just talking. It’s mesmerizing stuff. Not only were you able to sit with him and have him bring out the guitar that he played on the recordings and discuss the painting of his late aunt that affected him as a boy, but to walk into the room where he recorded Nebraska with him for the first time in four decades. 

Yeah, it all started with John Landau (Springsteen’s longtime manager and confidant), who was my first interview. John has his own amazing background, going from working at Rolling Stone to turning the corner into production, which is a pretty rare thing, and then to go from production into managing one of the biggest acts in the history of popular music. When we were done talking, he just said, “Look, I think you might have a book here, so I’m gonna tell Bruce that you’re writing it, and I’m gonna say I had a good time with you, and I think he might also have a good time.” I think that’s exactly what John did. You know, he’s not working with an artist that he can go to and say, “You have to talk to this guy.” That’s just not the relationship, obviously, and then I heard back from John saying, “Bruce is in.” 

The cool thing I have to say about John Landau is when he was calling me to say Bruce is in, I felt like he was as excited as I was. He’s got no reason to be excited for Warren Zanes’ book. He’s got a much bigger fish to fry. Those little injections of energy from another person really matter. And for Bruce, he’s an artist who, if he makes the decision to do the interview, believes, “I’m only going to do it if I can be present.” So, when I asked a question, if he had an answer, he gave it to me. If my question led to a question on his part, he pursued it with me. I think you can feel this in the text. I really tried to get it in there.

I liked how you stopped the narrative for a moment and concentrated on your conversations with Bruce – when he brings the guitar out and begins to reminisce. It’s an authentic connection with the artist wherein you begin to understand the guy who made Nebraska.

Yeah, I wanted to have those moments where the reader is me. They can see the picture of his Aunt Virginia, as you mentioned. They see the guitar come out. I wanted them to feel some of what I’m feeling because it’s true, it was mesmerizing to see those objects. They are the story embodied, but they also tell us something about who I’m interviewing. Bruce wanted me to have the tactile experience. He wants the history we’re talking about to vibrate for me as much as he can. Not everybody operates at that level. This book wouldn’t be near the book it is without his involvement.

Now, take me to when you go to the house where he recorded Nebraska. I think I have it right, this was the first time that he was in there since those recordings?

The way it happened was I write the book, I send it to John Landau, John and I talked for 90 minutes, and then he said at the end, “I’m going to send the book to Bruce, but I’m not going to tell him anything about my feelings. I want a cold response out of him, and let’s see if he feels like I did, and I think he will.”

Ok, so you receive approbation from Landau, and he digs it enough to send to Bruce cold. Now, you’re sitting there waiting…

Yeah, the thing that people don’t know about these guys, when I sent the book to John Landau, he called me the next day. He did not take weeks. When he sent it to Bruce, it was a day.

Photo by David Michael Kennedy via Penguin Random House

Springsteen got back to you, like, two days later?

When there’s a task at hand, if they choose to do it, it’s fast. It’s really impressive. So, yeah, he got back me and, again, it was really affirming, really validating. Bruce just said, “How can I help you?” And without thinking, I said, “I want to see that house. I can’t find it.” The next day I get a call, and it’s, you know, an unknown number, whatever you see on your phone, and it’s Bruce. He says, “Warren, for the first time in 40 years, I’m standing in the room where I made Nebraska. I spoke with the owner, and he said, I can bring you out here.” 

A week later, I go to his house and he takes me out. My first time going into the room was with him. And you know, at the end of the day, I’m a music fan and I know he’s a music fan. I just don’t think you have a career like that without staying close to that part of your identity. That holds for Elton John, Stevie Wonder – I think these people have nurtured the fan within. In that moment, I feel like he’s this hybrid – he’s the artist and he’s a fan in a strange way. I’m 100% fan, of course. I’m walking into this room with the guy who made Nebraska in that room. We’re on the orange shag carpet and it feels like… I think I use the word “pilgrimage” because there’s something spiritual, something mystical about it. I remember visiting High Records in Memphis and knowing that this is where they cut those Al Green records. And it’s like, they weren’t cutting Al Green records when I was there, but it happened there, and that something-happened-there effect is awesome.

I’ve had similar feelings visiting the Hemingway house in Key West or the Mark Twain house in Hartford, and where Dickens wrote and Hunter Thompson wrote, but I didn’t walk in the room with those guys. And it’s not even visiting The Stone Pony, where Springsteen made his bones. This is a room that only Springsteen had been in with an engineer and a four-track recorder to create this masterpiece.

Yeah, I couldn’t even find the house. I couldn’t find an address! You can find most of the houses that Springsteen lived in, rented, and I hope the book doesn’t ruin it for the person renting it now. But, yeah, you’re right. I’d been spending a couple of years writing about something that happened in that room and then I walk into it with the guy who made something happen in that room. Then, after a minute, he handed me his phone and said, “Take my picture.” That was wild.

This was clearly a big deal for him to go back to that place, because, as you discuss in the book, he was not in the best emotional state when he wrote and recorded those songs.

I felt like I was walking into that room with a guy that hadn’t been in it since he was having a very hard time in his life. And he came through that very hard time. I feel like sometimes, for all of us, when we return to the scene where we struggled in life, and we return having done some kind of healing, having experienced some kind of growth, we get to measure then-to-now, and it’s really moving. And being in the room with him was stirring

Then we get back in his El Camino and go back to his studio where we did the interviews and I could feel Bruce has gone through something with emotional density. I know I felt it at a bodily level. We were both kind of tired. We had tea and talked for an hour, and it was really beautiful closure for me. 

I don’t think he would have shown up in the way that he showed up for this book if he didn’t love Nebraska. I think the whole experience of making that record was really special to him.

Does he feel that perhaps the album has been misinterpreted or that it should have had a bigger audience? 

I don’t think he’s responding because he feels it’s neglected; I think he’s responding because he feels proud of the record. And he also sees it as a major turning point in his career. Like he said, from that point forward, he was writing songs with almost the mindset of a short story writer, and I think that really mattered with Nebraska. This is why it was important to unpack the influences that he speaks so explicitly about, you know, the Terrence Malick movie (Badlands), Flannery O’Connor, even Robert Frank’s photographs – you need that stuff to understand Nebraska. Most of what he talks about is not musical, and that told me this was like a growth spurt for him. I think for Springsteen, as an artist thinking of himself in relation to fine art, photography, or in relation to film or literature, it expanded his possibilities as a songwriter and performer.

And you have a unique perspective to offer in this book as a songwriter.

As a songwriter, what I get from Bruce is he that he is extremely good at telling stories where each verse can be almost like a contained story with a thematic binding to it. So, he can get a lot done with remarkable economy. That is striking to me. I’m stuck in relationship songs. You know, it’s all ‘me-and-her,’ and the ‘her’ shifts categories. There’s no romance in Nebraska. It’s not love songs, it’s life songs… and it’s not the good life songs, it’s the pain. It is a complete emotional experience without hope, without romance. That’s an interesting achievement to me. But to be fair, the truth is a song like “Highway Patrolman” that goes deep about sibling connection, and we don’t have songs about that, you know?

Two men. Two brothers. 

I think part of it is the ridiculousness of how the heterosexual norm is policed. I think homophobia is so prevalent in our culture that even something like the subject of a bond between brothers, you don’t see too much of that, and Bruce does it in such a way that is remarkable. It’s so funny to recall that note he wrote when he sent the demo of the songs to John Landau and how dismissive he is of “Highway Patrolman.”  I’m like, “Man, give me one ‘Highway Patrolman’ and I would retire.” It’s so good. So, there’s something about the scope of narrative, and the way in which he compresses it, without it feeling compressed. It reminds me of how much you can do in three minutes. Like how much he delivers in “My Father’s House” about a relationship between a father and a son without the father entering as a character. That’s amazing. There’s a high level of craft that I know he felt once he finished that record and he admitted, “This is my best collection of songs.”

Was there any shift in the author or songwriter in you that started in one place, and then ended up in another with Nebraska?

I think, yes. I mean, I haven’t really been involved in a long-term creative project that hasn’t changed me. And I hope that’s not just because I’ve been lucky with the quality of the projects I’ve been involved with. I hope it’s also because I have an openness and I let the stuff get in deep enough that it can change me. What moved me, to the greatest degree, was that thing about Springsteen and invisibility, the thing we talked about in relation to Homer’s Odyssey, and this idea that sometimes in life you need to be completely anonymous. You can’t have the trappings of ego and success. You go through periods in life where you’re nobody. Let them happen, because it’s almost like the whole of life is the in-breath and the out-breath. It expands. It goes up. It goes down. It builds. It breaks down. Springsteen’s Nebraska, as we’ve talked about, is this period of artistic growth. But he also hit a kind of bottom, and then he reemerges from it. In watching him the way he went through that, and the way he emerged from it, mattered to me. This is a record without any hope in the songs. To me, there’s a lot of hope in the act. He went to a really dark place, he had a breakdown, and with a kind of consciousness, he rebuilt. 

Now me, personally, I can’t get too many of those stories. I don’t know why that is, but I really need them, like when I brought Homer’s Odyssey to him and talked about it with him, I was bringing something that mattered deeply to me. I remember finding a book on tape for young adults and playing it for my sons because I think there’s a tremendous amount of human truth in the Odyssey and there are remarkable lessons to learn from it. I feel the same way about what Springsteen did with Nebraska; he hit this kind of bottom, where all the accolades and all the success weren’t fixing him, and he made a record in the middle of that, which is incredible. He didn’t look to career success to make the fix, he went inward, he got some help. He started a rebuilding process before Born in the USA is released, and seeing someone who could easily distract themselves with success choose not to go into the hard part of growing up, that’s powerful to me.

You know, I’m a guy whose father died a couple of years ago and didn’t know him. He lived close to me a few times, but he didn’t reach out. I finally got an address for him and brought my two sons to meet him. They met him once and we never heard from him again. Then he died. And so, in the absence of that kind of parental figure teaching me lessons, the people who have come into my life like Tom Petty did – and I’m doing an extended project with Garth Brooks – but Bruce, the Bruce of Nebraska, I learned something from him in terms of how do you really grow up? It’s not pretty and it’s not a party, and to see these guys do it, and to have a pretty good seat to watch it, or to hear about it after the fact, matters deeply to me.

Maybe I’m open when I go into a project because I’ve got more things to learn, and what I learned most from the book is that even a guy with that kind of success has to get down to the gritty work of finding out what’s wrong inside so that he can do a little work on it and become a better band leader, become a better husband, become a better dad. I think all those stories of hopelessness on Nebraska, he had to go through all those, he had to walk through each of those forests. He ultimately got himself to a place where some internal rebuilding had been done – a higher level of self-understanding had been achieved. And then he comes out with Born in the USA and it’s this massive worldwide hit, and it’s not like his troubles are over, but he’s gone through this human passage that is really deep. 

The great thing about your book is you learn that what Springsteen did with Nebraska was not like Roger Waters working through his father’s death in WWII or his growing paranoia about fame on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. As you say, with these short stories, these character-driven vignettes, his sharing of pain is not a blatant single artistic statement, but it’s there. One of my favorite passages in Deliver Me to Nowhere is when Landau gets the demo tape and it’s a revelation, “Holy shit, there’s something deeply wrong with this guy right now.” It’s all there on the vinyl, but it’s not obvious. Someone close to him, like John, can see it. Where an introspective album like John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band is a public acknowledgement of pain, this one is insular, personal, uniquely courageous in its own unique way.

Totally. I think that’s another thing that has made Nebraska last. A couple of messages are, one, you don’t need the commercial recording studio. You don’t need to spend six figures. You don’t need a band. It doesn’t have to sound perfect. It doesn’t have to have perfect tempo, all this stuff. Also, you don’t need to explain it to your listeners… if you trust them. Springsteen had cultivated a deep relationship with his listeners and he trusted them, so he didn’t do interviews. He didn’t write songs that wrapped it all up. He gave us a tremendous amount of work to do and that feels good on our end.

Yes, he goes from spending a year on Born to Run, doing 55 takes of a song, driving Steven Van Zandt to drink, this manic drive for perfection, to Nebraska. The charm of the whole project is that he never meant for it to be heard. He is completely unselfconscious – and you hear that on the vinyl.

Yeah, that’s the crucial point in the book: This is the only official release he made not knowing he was recording an official release. Nebraska is a secret he shared with himself and us.

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ERIC ADAMS NEEDS TO BE THE NEXT MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY

Aquarian Weekly
6/30/21

Reality Check

James Campion

ERIC ADAMS NEEDS TO BE THE NEXT MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY

I need to state first for the record, if I haven’t already over the nearly quarter century I have written this column, that I love New York City more than almost anything. Honestly. My family, sure. Music, absolutely. The Yankees, but they’re New York. The Bronx, really. That’s where I’m from. Born and raised. Well, actually, I was born in what was then called Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on the northeast end of Manhattan. My dad worked there at the time. Kind of a perk. But I grew up on Van Ness Avenue and White Plains Road, a short stroll from the Bronx Zoo. I did all the Bronx things – stickball, punch ball, fistfights in Catholic schoolyards at six, survived many of my friends being run down by speeding cars at eight, and throughout my boyhood, ducked the barrage of ammo that came raining down on us every Fourth of July.

Going to Manhattan in those years was always magical. Even when we moved to New jersey in the early seventies, and my dad was working in this incredible skyscraper across from the Plaza Hotel on West 57th, it was as if visiting Oz. All the best music, the best films, plays, books, came out of, or were centered on NYC. Spiderman plied his trade there. Come on. This is why I dedicated my only novel to NYC. In my twenties and early thirties, I only ever dated NYC women, Brooklyn girls, to be exact. I had to. They got me. And I got them. My current wife, from a small town up outside Syracuse, strangely possesses a cosmopolitan streak a mile wide. We practicably live on the island. She once walked a dozen city blocks in her bare feet. We were comfortable at three in the afternoon and three in the morning there. It has everything a Vegan/Pagan/Feminist/Progressive/Artist could want – food, yoga, bars, and weridos. Lots of blessed weirdos. Whenever we have been to other cities of repute, London, Paris, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, she always remarks to me, “So… this is it? It’s not New York.”

So, I know when the city is in crisis. I can remember having my car stolen, and my girlfriend’s car broken into, and during that time when I drove medical records across all five boroughs in the early nineties, how much of a lawless wild west town it was. I could do anything, and I did. I drove along the street on the side of the Jacob Javits Center in reverse for four blocks, cut down one-way streets the opposite way to avoid traffic, drove on sidewalks, sped on service roads, and escaped a four-car pile-up I was in (but did not start, I promise), and double and triple parked like some petty outlaw. I saw drugs sold everywhere at any time and feral homeless attacking my car when I pulled off the Willis Avenue Bridge from Westchester, where I was living at the time. It wasn’t the romantic 1970s kind of hellhole, the Taxi Driver times, but it was bad. Race riots, carjacking, random shootings of all kinds by all ages across all races, neighborhoods, and economic strata.

The city is not there yet, but I see the signs.

I covered the Rudolf Giuliani election in the early nineties for the North County News out of Yorktown, NY. I was there that night when a Republican won and summarily announced he would clean up New York. We all laughed. And you know something, he did. A few things saved New York City in the 1990s – mostly Disney and MTV turning Times Square from a cesspool into a mecca, the Derek Jeter Yankees, along with the Rangers and Knicks being great, and the man I affectionately called Uncle Rudy. Giuliani did crack down on all the things we assumed could not be contained. His run was at times draconian and silly, and he could be quite the fucking asshole, but New York needed him.

This is a time to rebuild from the Covid-19 shutdowns and for real police reform, not combative Defund-the-Police nonsense.

This is the same man that has recently had his law license suspended for perpetuating Donald Trump’s hissy-fit election lie bullshit that led to the January 6 insurrections. Watching him blathering on like one of those lunatics on the subway, Giuliani has become America’s dupe and general embarrassment, and worse still, a threat to the nation’s democracy. He has fallen hard and should rightfully be locked up. Maybe he is mentally ill? It may have been contracting the prostate cancer that prevented him from going up against Hillary Clinton for that senate seat in 2001. Another race I covered in this space. Giuliani, like many New Yorkers could see a Robert Kennedy type carpetbagger thing going on. The hatred for the Clintons was strong in him. Giuliani is also a bleating media whore, precisely why he keeps constant vigil around Trump, another legs-akimbo hustler of a different ilk. This combination drove him to complete madness in 2016 when Clinton tried to be president and Trump was the only one who could stop her. And that obsession will likely land him in prison.

But all of this NYC reminiscing brings me to Eric Adams, the current Brooklyn borough president, and currently atop the leader board for Democratic nominee to run for Mayor this fall, which means, the next mayor. Crime rate and shootings are up – not at eighties levels, but they are on the rise, and speaking to people from Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx these past few weeks, it is getting clear that public safety is key to keeping the city on its current trajectory back from the quarantine. I spent my 22nd anniversary, as we mostly do, in Greenwich Village a couple of weeks ago, and the town is teaming. It is making it back, and it does not need to get into culture wars, union falderal or progressive chatter. It needs stabilization. It needs time to breathe and welcome in more tourists and bridge-and-tunnel types like myself and my daughter, who grew up on the streets of NYC with her dad wheeling her around to the sights and sounds of the grand metropolis.

New York is plenty progressive, even Staten Island. Ask the people of central Brooklyn, southeastern Queens, and the Bronx, areas dominated by working and middle-class Black and Latino voters. This is a time to rebuild from the Covid-19 shutdowns and for real police reform, not combative Defund-the-Police nonsense. Weeding out the shitty cops is what Adams, a former NYPD Captain, can and will do. Center-right in this environment is the right way to go for New York. Trust me on this. I have been there.

Another key element, that should never be overlooked in this equation is that Adams would be the first Black mayor since David Dinkens (that is fucking amazing, there has only been one). I believe in what Adams is selling, and being a Democrat, he may be an even more effective voice for the city on that issue. Adams is also from my generation, the one that ain’t quite Boomer but sure ain’t X. He’s got that Barack Obama thing going for him. He has grown up in the same milieu as me.

Regardless how this Ranked Choice Voting thing goes – choosing a top-five candidates and figuring an aggregate winner from those ballots – and man it is stupid for a city this size, Adams, who is leading fairly substantially, needs to be the next mayor of New York City.

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OUR MONSTER FIXATION

Aquarian Weekly
4/14/21

Reality Check

James Campion

OUR MONSTER FIXATION
What Godzilla vs. Kong Tells Us About Our Times

I am going to state for the record that I am an unabashed King Kong vs. Godzilla fan. Not because the original film came out the year I was born or that I have fond memories of going to see it with my grandma when I was a boy in the Bronx, but because it is so damn cool when two titans of the monster universe clash. No matter the reason. However the writers and filmmakers decide to get these two together is okay with me. This is why when Godzilla vs. Kong was released to great fanfare last Friday, I made it a point to sit my girls in front of our giant TV with my ridiculous sound system and watch it. And we did. And it was fucking fantastic. Silly. Cheesy. At times downright unintelligible claptrap. But when King Kong and Godzilla face off, all sins are forgiven.

I have always been fascinated by monster films. So is my daughter. I dig that about her. We have a slice of the macabre in us. She was riveted to the film. And why not? The sights and sounds of giant creatures stomping around, crashing through buildings and tossing tiny humans aside like ants, triggers something primal in us. Maybe because we’re in the smaller category of human? Maybe it’s an appetite for destruction? Who knows? One thing is for certain, these monster films, especially the ones featuring the biggies, and you get no bigger than King Kong and Godzilla, reflect a deeper framework of a world that is both joyful (beaches, sunsets, flowers, furry little creatures) and terrifying (floods, fires, storms, and large, growling creatures).

Nature vs. Civilization is always at the forefront of these creatures and their films. And they are always wildly popular. Despite hundreds of giant monster movies, many of them downright awful, the biggest stars, King Kong and Godzilla have not faced off in nearly sixty years. Most of that has no doubt to do with copyrights and lawyers, you know, human/civilization stuff, but nevertheless when they do come around, they are a hit. What does it say that with all of the content streamed our way since the pandemic hit in the spring of last year that Godzilla vs. Kong topped the list last week? Here we are, trapped by a virus, our civilization threatened by an unknown natural enemy we cannot wage war against culturally, politically, racially, added to the systemic vs. science fight on how to curtail this threat. So many factors; ideology, religion, politics, government. And here come the monsters.

Auspicious timing has been a reoccurring theme to monster films – especially the exaggerated grotesque forms of nature – a giant gorilla, who is both ancestor and imposing beast, arriving as tall as a building. Buildings, of course, being the big deal when King Kong was introduced to the world in 1933, the very height of the Great Depression. It would take more than a mere column to discuss the artistic ramifications in literature, art, film, and music that our man-made disaster did to the world, culminating in World War II, but suffice to say King Kong underlined it. It was perfect timing for a large ape to be brought against its will to the United States, fast becoming the dominant global power, to its greatest city, soon to be the world’s epicenter for progress, media, capitalism, and ingenuity, and scale its greatest edifice, the Empire State Building, erected merely two years before, only to be felled by a fleet of airplanes.

While a ship takes the fictitious film crew to Skull Island to encounter the mighty Kong in the original film, the airplane is the generational star of King Kong. Used for the first time a generation before as a special weapon of World War I, the purported war to end all wars, coupled with Charles Lindbergh’s improbable transcontinental flight only five-years gone, the airplane as both weapon and viable travel craft was relatively new. It is no coincidence that airplanes bringing Kong down resonated with 1933 audiences. The giant ape and the newest technology, battling on the biggest skyscraper on the planet in the biggest city of the biggest power around. A power brought low by stupidity and greed and the question of whether untethered capitalism, and the control of the economic environment as some kind of craps table, was viable for survival. The vengeance of the all-mighty buck as a far more imposing creature than the hairy beast with a crush on the screaming blonde woman.

Whew. A little on the nose, huh?

That is nothing compared to Godzilla.

King Kong is a film about the Great Depression, progress versus our natural past. Godzilla is a post-World War II film about the horrors of the atomic age, what humans had wrought on itself. The atomic bomb that laid waste to millions of Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to the global massacre of billions for ideology and racism. The fears of our progress to make war, kill as many of us as possible, is in every frame of the 1954 film. And it does not hide its lineage from King Kong in its very name; Godzilla is from the word Gojira, a combination of two Japanese terms for “gorilla” and “whale”, both the fictionalized and actual largest mammals on the planet. This is not only nature come to lay claim to the planet, but the mutant ramifications of fucking with nature so badly.

This, of course, makes perfect sense in post-war Japan, a country ravaged in humiliating defeat, forced to see its holy leader felled by Western war technology and laid low by the growing dangers of the twentieth century. But Godzilla was so popular, an American version was introduced in 1956, literally challenging the legacy of King Kong with its title, Godzilla, King of the Monsters. A young Raymond Burr was added to the footage and thus the plot to put an American in the thing, a representative of our culpability in all this, harkening back to King Kong coming to die under a fusillade of airplane bullets thirteen years earlier. To be fair, it was just a Hollywood cash grab, but it was hard, as it is now, to ignore this theme. It is also quite cool to consider Godzilla and Elvis Presley showing up at the same time. Much of what came before was about to be swept away by another monster entirely.

The sights and sounds of giant creatures stomping around, crashing through buildings and tossing tiny humans aside like ants, triggers something primal in us.

So, it was inevitable that the two mighty franchises and its monsters should clash, and they did, in August of 1962. It was the height of the Cold War, two months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a year before the Kennedy Assassination, and the Beatles and the 1960s and all that. A Japanese film company produced it with a plot teeming with anti-corporate greed and growing fears over pharmaceuticals and nuclear realities. None of it makes any sense when considering A) Kong dies at the end of the original film – despite American exploitations for the franchise – and B) how he ends up across the globe. Nevertheless, it was a massive international hit, released in America the following year. When I saw it in the late sixties, we all assumed there would be a sequel, considering the spate of these monster films throughout my childhood on TV and elsewhere. There would be a ton of rematches to come. Alas, this was not to be.   

Which brings us to 2021, and our pandemic/quarantine world, and the two titans returning to once again remind us of our self-destruction; technology and innovation over nature and humanity, our greed versus the sustaining of the planet, the unknown virus lying in wait to wipe us out. The ape from our past and the reanimated dinosaur from pre-history are products of things going terribly awry. Apparently, I would learn as we laughed and cheered and fist-pumped our way through Kong Versus Godzilla, this is a sequel of recent films, none of which I have seen. I mean, I am 58 now, and not as connected to the many universes run by giant conglomerates. But when I see these two lovable bastards about to fight, count me in.

Because that what monster movies do for us. They bring us back to our humanity by threatening it with large creatures that don’t belong, but kind of belong. They have human characterizes, they like kids, and are jealous and macho and fearful of something different moving in on their territory. All the stuff that we make and unmake.

We love monster movies. And it is no wonder at all.  

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