Wednesday, January 18, 2017

President Barack Obama: A Few Kind Words

Today will be Barack Obama's last full day as the 44th President of the United States of America.  I believe it is safe to say we'll never see the likes of him for some time. Perhaps he wasn't meant for an age like ours, one where language is diminished. Arguments must be rapid fire insult ridden shouting matches carried out over social media where the only the loudest, crudest one in the room commands respect.  

Above all President Obama is a man of the written word and I hope he will continue to write after leaving office.  Like Winston Churchill, his command of the English language will serve him well for posterity. After writing the obligatory memoirs I hope he writes some history books like Churchill. Books, not tweets, will stand the test of time. Whatever President Obama decides to do, I wish his family well and hope he doesn't stay away too long.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Inauguration Day (For Night) Blues Playlist

As the Trump administration creeps ever closer to taking the reins of our ever fragile republic, I compiled a list of songs about many things that speak to the moment (for me anyway).  Many were songs I listened to over the past year so they are closely linked with the events of 2016. There's an ongoing tension between fear, hope, and defiance to the list. Let's begin with Badfinger's 1969 hit single, "Come and Get It" written by Paul McCartney for the counter-culture film The Magic Christian starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr about a privileged billionaire obsessed with what people will do for money.  Based on the Terry Southern novel, the sharpest hipster of his day, he would've had a field day with the Trump era, but reality is satire these days.  "When the Circus Comes" from Los Lobos prepares us for the craziness.  "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything" cahnnels the mood of mid November '16. Bob Dylan's "Tombstone Blues" reads like prophecy for 2017 with Jack the Ripper heading the Chamber of Commerce and the delusional Commander of Chief in a barrage of psychedelic stream of consciousness verse. "People Get Ready", an anthem of the civil rights era written by Curtis Mayfield, got covered by hundreds of recording artists. I like The Chamber Brothers cover, a steady rocking version that gets to the gospel origins of the song- appropriate for any day of the year. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins offer a slanted whimsy to political theory on "The Charging Sky." Next Harry Nilsson's version of the Randy Newman standard "Sail Away" about a charming slave trader reminds us hucksters are often too suave to refuse.  Fred Neil's "The Dolphins" will take you to some other place far away. And then Neko Case with "Night Still Comes," a heartbreaking dirge about anything and everything sung beautifully. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds share some "More News From Nowhere." New York City band Parquet Courts search for the Southern Soul on "Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth" and Elmore James moves us back to the center of the circle with "Dust My Blues."  The Rolling Stones go further into the abyss on "Dancin' with Mr D,"  a boozy reflection on excess and temptation, a Stones song more appropriate to conclude a Trump rally than his ominous preference for "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Frank Zappa's "I'm the Slime," memorably performed on 1970s SNL follows a megalomaniac who gleefully manipulates the masses (thru TV, not twitter). Tom Petty comments on widespread culture dissonance on "Shadow People." As Petty ponders the mania for Conceal and Carry as the last refuge of a dangling man he sings with resignation, "Well I ain't on the left, I ain't on the right/Ain't even sure if I got a dog in this fight."  P.J. Harvey resets the tone on "Community of Hope"; a new-old sort of protest music.  "Sittin on Top of the World"  by Howlin Wolf throws an existential curve ball into the ether.  Judee Sill's splendid "There's a Rugged Road" serves up more resilience; Pink Floyd's "Fearless" brings the resistance up another notch - we gonna need it! Finally Ohia's "Farewell Transmission," fronted by the fallen Ohio cult hero Jason Molina (1973-2013) closes the list out with a swinging prose poem rocker of viscous defiance.  As a coda, after emerging from the other end of the rabbit hole, I hope to hear The Doors "Hyacinth House" playing on a shiny neon jukebox, hinting that things will somewhere, somehow be OK.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

An Alternate White Album

What if the Beatles decided to edit their 1968 White Album down to 15 tracks? Their producer George Martin always favored such a course and maybe he was right (don't get me wrong the original LP is still a masterpiece). It's a cool thought experiment. Here's my edit:
Side One
1) Back in the U.S.S.R.
2) Dear Prudence
3) While My Guitar Gently Weeps
4) Not Guilty
5) Yer Blues
6) Piggies
7) Mother Nature's Son
Side 2
1) Cry Baby Cry
2) Julia
3) Helter Skelter
4) Why Don't We Do It In the Road?
5) Happiness is a Warm Gun
6) Long, Long, Long
7) Blackbird
8) Revolution 1
The "single record" approach makes for a more intense and aggressive album that contrasts with the madcap pace of the original. It's also more democratic. I put George's material on nearly equal par with Lennon/McCartney, including his sardonic outtake "Not Guilty."  Ending the album with "Revolution 1" felt like the perfect closer, although Ringo's "Goodnight" is the perfect ending to the double LP.
John: Six Tracks
Paul: Five Tracks
George: Four Tracks

Friday, October 28, 2016

America 2016 Part III: Watching the Wheels

I remember reading the John Lennon quote I posted below and it always stayed with me. All elections are important, especially this one.  And folks are feeling powerless and afraid. I get it.  But why all the fanaticism for leaders?  Why not just focus on improving ourselves and being better human beings?  So whether one is right, left, or center, instead of firing talking points at each other, why not just being kind as we pass each other by? Crack a joke instead. Offer a sympathetic hand on the shoulder.  We're all in this together.  

"Well, you make your own dream. That's the Beatles' story, isn't it? That's Yoko's story. That's what I'm saying now. Produce your own dream. If you want to save Peru, go save Peru. It's quite possible to do anything, but not to put it on the leaders and the parking meters. Don't expect Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or John Lennon or Yoko Ono or Bob Dylan or Jesus Christ to come and do it for you. You have to do it yourself. That's what the great masters and mistresses have been saying ever since time began. They can point the way, leave signposts and little instructions in various books that are now called holy and worshiped for the cover of the book and not for what it says, but the instructions are all there for all to see, have always been and always will be. There's nothing new under the sun. All the roads lead to Rome. And people cannot provide it for you. I can't wake you up. You can wake you up. I can't cure you. You can cure you."

- John Lennon 1980

Monday, October 24, 2016

2016 World Series Preview: Cubs vs Indians

The 2016 World Series. Something's gotta give.  The Chicago Cubs are making their first appearance since 1945, going for their first World Title since 1908.  The Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series since 1948 after losses in 1954, 1995, and 1997. Their last appearance against the Florida Marlins came within two outs of a victory. 

The 2016 Cleveland Indians have youth and experience.  They steam rolled over the Boston Red Sox in the Divisional Series and easily took care of the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS.

The Cubs also cruised through the playoffs as well, overcoming a 2-1 deficit in the NLCS against the L.A. Dodgers. Their potent pitching staff of Jon Lester, Jake Arrietta, Kyle Hendricks, and John Lackey will be a formidable challenge for the Tribe. However, the Indians also have a strong rotation as well - and a superb bullpen.  

Odds are it will be a series dominated by pitching. 

It will be exciting to see two great baseball teams with a colorful history take the field. Despite being lovable losers for decades, the Cubs have a rich history.  I remember watching them frequently in the 1980s on WFFT Channel 55 out of Fort Wayne.  The Cubs were tough and fun to watch with Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Andrew Dawson, and Greg Maddux.

For a generation of Cleveland fans born between 1945-1975, a good season meant breaking even and not being a total embarrassment. Many, many colorful characters played at the old stadium by the lake. Highlights included hiring the first black manager Frank Robinson in 1975 and Len Barker's perfect game on May 15, 1981.  Other memories were less savory, such as 5 cent beer night on June 5, 1974 (the game ended in forfeit).

Behind manager Terry Francona, the Indians play with swagger and confidence.  A victory for the Tribe would heal the wounds of 1997 and 1954, two defeats that devastated the franchise for years.   

The eyes of the nation will be watching.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

America 2016 Part II: All He Believes Are His Eyes

I was trying to think of a Dylan song that best encapsulates the 2016 election.  I suppose you could reference "Masters of War" or "Political World" as obvious choices. But watching the debate last night, "License to Kill" suddenly played in my head.  Yeah, the lyrics pretty much get it right.  

Lyrics like "he's hell bent for destruction, he's afraid and confused" describe someone of Donald Trump's temperament.  The song keeps returning to the woman sadly observing men making a wreck of the earth could either be Hillary Clinton or perhaps all of the "nasty women" Trump's exploited over the years. 

Here's Dylan performing with The Plugz on Late Night With Letterman.  The date March 22, 1984.  After the performance Dylan attended a Celtics/Knicks game at Madison Square Garden.

License To Kill

Man thinks ’cause he rules the earth he can do with it as he please
And if things don’t change soon, he will
Oh, man has invented his doom
First step was touching the moon

Now, there’s a woman on my block
She just sit there as the night grows still
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Now, they take him and they teach him and they groom him for life
And they set him on a path where he’s bound to get ill
Then they bury him with stars
Sell his body like they do used cars

Now, there’s a woman on my block
She just sit there facin’ the hill
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Now, he’s hell-bent for destruction, he’s afraid and confused
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill
All he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies

But there’s a woman on my block
Sitting there in a cold chill
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Ya may be a noisemaker, spirit maker
Heartbreaker, backbreaker
Leave no stone unturned
May be an actor in a plot
That might be all that you got
’Til your error you clearly learn

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way

Now, there’s a woman on my block
She just sit there as the night grows still
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

America 2016 Part I: And This Is Not Our Fate

Twenty First Century Totalitarian Donald Trump may win the American presidency. It Can't Happen Here you say?  That ringing in your ears, that's history going on red alert. So we better stop and listen. 

Something is rotten in the Republic and we are like Hamlet returning home to find your nefarious uncle not only stole your mother but the whole goddamn kingdom (and probably swindled your father because that's what loooooooooosers deserve). Everything's fucked up. And we are all going crazy.

If the 1960s and Watergate triggered a national nervous breakdown, Trump presents a spiritual/existential crisis of the highest order. Like Father Karras in The Exorcist, we are first in denial of the demon's existence, but come to realize the fiend must be confronted.

In school I remember learning about the Second World War and the rise of Fascism and feeling a strong pride that America and its Allies defeated those who wanted to poison and destroy free thought. As I learned more of U.S history, I realized there's enough blood on the tracks to put the entire American experiment into question. And yet, even in my most cynical moments I would think to myself, at least America helped stop Hitler.

Tragically, it now looks like everything America fought for in the Second World War could go down the drain, may already be circling the drain.

In 1940 Winston Churchill warned of a new dark age to arise if the Third Reich prevailed, the best ideals of Western Civilization would dissolve into a dreamlike darkness. 

Now 75 years later democracy is becoming more of a punchline than a sacred idea. Authoritarian types are on the rise.  Give me Putin over Pussy Riot.  Give me Mussolini over Fellini.  A Henry Ford for a Lincoln. Tom Paine's been kicked to the curb by Fox News.

We have a major party candidate arrogantly preaching hate, intolerance, and ignorance. King of the Demagogues; Lord of the Fleas. He commands an unsavory group of followers known as the alt-right, the base of the base if you will. Their hobbies include holocaust denial and hipster bigotry.

Some are more traditional in their intolerance. Disagree with us and we WILL hurt you is the implicit message of Trump's rhetoric. Complexities are reduced to Orwellian slogans. Gotta Love the TRUMP because he's a BUSINESSMAN WHO GETS THINGS DONE. The cult of the CEO reigns supreme.

The moral equivalency espoused by those who see no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is even more maddening. She'll never have the hip appeal of Bernie nor the Arkansas swagger of her husband. Hillary may carry the banner of the establishment, but she's not evil.  No stoking the fires of hate from her camp, nor is she insulting or demeaning to her opponents.  Clinton's intentions and goals are in the right place. She knows her Machiavelli (apparently Trump reads the collected speeches of Hitler). If there were a short list of people MORE than qualified for the presidency - Hillary would be on that list. She would make a fine chief executive.

I'm loathe to imagine what a Trump presidency would mean for America and the world. Building a wall on the Mexican border, making torture standard operating procedure, casual use of nuclear weapons are all illogical, dangerous, insane.  Or a trade war with China. See how that goes. The man implored foreign countries to hack into his opponent's email account. There's no limit to his bat shit madness. In another life he would be a crooked carny on the dice game racket. 

So the Trump campaign is a reactionary fever dream to restore a past that never existed. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. to die, to sleep - - to sleep - - perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come . . . .    

Like many Americans I feel like Kevin McCarthy screaming at the oblivious motorists at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Has everyone fallen asleep at the wheel?  Are the pod people taking over?  Alas, Joe DiMaggio's left and gone away. O'Leary's in the grave. Superman took off for the coast.  Ain't no savior going to arise from these streets, but. . . . .. . . .. . . .. 

--------------its easy to despair, these indeed are the times that try men's souls.  

No matter what garbage spews out of Trump's mouth, America's still got soul.  We are the still the locale of Jack Kerouac, Emily Dickinson, Allen Ginsberg, Curtis Mayfield, FDR, IKE, JFK, MLK, Willie Mays, Chuck Berry, Ella Fitzgerald, Hunter Thompson, Joan Didion, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie and many, many others who fought and continue to fight the good fight.

The world will little remember what was said in 2016, but it will remember what happened and what it led to. I think the stakes are much bigger than anyone can know, so listen to your heart, don't give into hate.  Let's not throw it all away, it ain't worth it.