Thoughts On the Election

I wanted to write about the election in some fashion, but it’s fucking depressing, so I have delayed.  I’m not saying it is without hope.  In Bernie Sanders I believe there is a candidate that is addressing the main problem in America, that our economic system has completely corrupted our ability as a country to deal with the very real problems we face.  A system that values money above all else, and that is what our system truly values, has lead to obscene income inequality, environmental degradation, a mainstream culture that is largely meaningless, and more.  My hope comes from the fact that not only is Sanders bringing this issue to a larger audience, but that he is dong as well as he is so far.  At the beginning of the election I didn’t have much hope that a democratic socialist could go almost head to head with the Clinton machine.

That being said the rest of the election feels like the WWE is organizing it in a banana republic.  Send in the clowns.  Imagine if you were from another country looking in.  The most powerful country in the world, the country with the strongest military, was considering putting either a reality TV star or Ted Cruz at the head of one of its two political parties.  I don’t even know what to call Ted Cruz.  Words escape me.  I can’t tell if he is a charlatan of the worst kind, or a dangerous true believer.  There is something reptilian about him.  He makes George W. Bush look like FDR.  (Never ever say things can’t get worse.  The world will install a trapdoor in the abyss if you boldly declare you have hit rock bottom.)

In the middle of all of this you have Clinton.  I don’t know what to make of her either, but for a different reason.  Her husband was a corporate Democrat.  If you think otherwise go read about his presidency.  What does she believe in?  Does she share her husband’s values?  (There is no guarantee either way.)  How could someone that has been in the public eye this long still mystify me as to what her true political beliefs are?  In one sense I understand it.  She was attacked so vehemently from the outset, when she was First Lady, that it’s not hard to imagine that she would have to develop an impenetrable exterior to deal with it.  But armor can not only protect, but conceal.  I think she would be pretty centrist, but there are a few key issues, in terms of what kind of centrist, that could make all the difference.  (There is a potential for Clinton to be a great president.  She is definitely smart and capable.  I think she understands the machinations of the political system enough to get things done.  However, without knowing what she believes, I feel like choosing her over Sanders would be casting a vote into the void, just hoping for the best.)  Don’t get me wrong, I’d vote for her over this bunch of Republicans, as it would be a vote against total insanity.  But what does it say about our country that we might end up having to choose between middle-of-the-road and batshit crazy?

…………………..

On another note, I can’t help but feel that many on the right and left are angry about the same things, even if they can’t agree on the cause.  A lot of people are feeling the uncertainty that our economic system has caused.  But I also think both sides feel the meaninglessness that is inherent in our culture.  Those on the right might call it immoral, but I would just say meaningless, though what has created it is a certain kind of greedy immorality.  The main operating value is money.  Whatever makes money wins.  This is how we end up with so many things that just end up representing the lowest common denominator.   Although there are of course things that the right and left will never agree upon, I do believe that if both sides could recognize the meaninglessness of a lot of our culture, and the fact that greed has created it, there could be positive changes that would satisfy members of both groups.  But maybe I’m just dreaming?

Strange Legends, Myths, and Rock N Roll Deaths Surrounding February 3rd

Rock and Roll Myths, Legends, and Curses

You can’t keep a good myth down.  Everyone knows February 3rd as “The Day the Music Died”, when Buddy Holly Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper all died in a plane crash.  However, this day has some other strange occurrences and legends surrounding it.  Legendary British producer Joe Meek was a huge Buddy Holly fan.  He even produced a tribute to Buddy Holly for recording artist Mike Berry.  (The excellent Tribute to Buddy Holly up above.)  It was claimed that legendary British music producer Joe Meek warned Holly of his death:

During his successful tour of England in 1958, Buddy was startled to find a note delivered to him personally by legendary British recording engineer and producer Joe Meek. Meek had become fascinated with the occult and had graduated from his Ouija board to tarot card readings. During a tarot session in January of 1958, vocalist Jimmy Miller of Jimmy Miller and the Barbecues joined Joe Meek. Miller had enjoyed using his Ouija board as a method to help pick up girls. He noticed it helped break the ice, and many of his dates found the spooky readings to be fascinating. It just seemed natural that Jimmy would graduate to higher forms of spiritualism with Joe Meek, especially since Joe was the band’s producer.

According to Miller, on this particular night Joe Meek had invited Faud, an Arab friend and another dabbler in the occult sciences, to make up the third party, and the tarot cards were brought out into an appropriately darkened room. Miller recalled, “That was the first time I had handled tarot cards, and even now I am getting tingles down my spine.” These slight tingles would later turn to petrifying fear as the evening progressed. Meek told Jimmy to shuffle and cut the cards with his left hand. The right hand of each man securely gripped the left of the man sitting next to him. Joe placed himself in the middle and Faud’s right hand was kept free to write down on a writing pad any spiritual messages that might make their way through the veil. Miller recalls that the cards felt strange and that he became nauseated.

Slowly, he turned each card with his left hand. Halfway through the deck, Jimmy grasped Joe’s hand so tightly that the singer’s fingernails dug deeply into the producer’s knuckles, cutting into the flesh. Faud began slowly writing down individual letters that created the message now being obtained from the beyond.

When the cards were completely turned, Joe Meek screamed in pain and wrenched his hand free from the now equally terrified Miller. In horror the three men looked at the spiritual message that had been recorded by Faud. The message stated a date — “February the third.” The date was followed by the name “Buddy Holly” and “Dies.” “The whole affair was amazing because the message was written in what looked very much like my [Miller’s] own handwriting,” Miller said.

As Miller recalled it, Joe Meek was now a man filled with a terrible urgency. Not only was he a fan of Buddy Holly, but now he had only a few short weeks to get the message to Buddy to be extremely careful on February the third. Meek contacted record companies, music publishers, and any other inside sources that could carry the prophetic message of doom to the popular American singer.

When February 3, 1958, finally came and passed without incident, Miller said Joe felt relieved but still felt it was his responsibility to personally deliver the message to Holly when the singer and his backup group the Crickets arrived in Great Britain in mid-February to begin their UK tour. When Meek told Holly the incredible events of the tarot reading the singer very politely thanked Joe for his concern and promised that he would always be extremely careful in the future when February the third would come around.

In an interview with the BBC at the tour’s end, Holly remarked that his tour of England had been very strange. First, a fan threw a brick with an autograph book attached through his dressing room window, almost hitting him, and then he received a message telling him that he was going to die. If only Buddy Holly had remembered Joe Meek’s warning the next year when on February 3, 1959, Holly climbed into a small chartered airplane on a cold winter’s night in Iowa. Fate would not present Buddy Holly with a second chance.

There have been different versions of this story told, and no one is certain what exactly happened.  However, there is no doubt that February 3rd would also feature heavily in Meek’s own life.  Meek also took his own life, and the life of his land lady, eight years later to the day of Buddy Holly’s death:

On 3 February 1967 Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton and then himself with a single-barrelled shotgun that he had confiscated from his protégé, former Tornados bassist and solo star Heinz Burt at his Holloway Road home/studio. Meek had flown into a rage and taken the gun from Burt when he informed Meek that he had used it while on tour to shoot birds. Meek had kept the gun under his bed, along with some cartridges. As the shotgun had been owned by Burt, he was questioned intensively by police, before being eliminated from their enquiries.

Meek was suffering from depression.  He was accused of plagiarism, which was proved untrue after his death, which were adding to his financial problems. He had also been caught trying to perform a homosexual act at a time when being gay was still a crime in England.  (Meek was very afraid of his mother finding out, whom he loved deeply.)  Meek, probably bipolar, was also addicted to speed and other drugs that enabled him to work long hours, which greatly added to his depression at the end of his life.

………………….

There is also a strange connection to Del Shannon’s death, which occurred on the on February 9th.  However, Shannon’s last live performance was on February 3rd at the same venue that Buddy Holly played before his plane crash:

Del Shannon hit the rock charts in the early 1960s. His classic hit “Runaway” filled the radio airwaves in 1961 and introduced what sounded like a Moog synthesizer, but was most likely a Musitron, an organlike instrument. Other Shannon hits included “Hats Off to Larry” and “Little Town Flirt.” Sadly, Del Shannon was doomed to be yet another victim of the British invasion during the mid-1960s.

In the late 1980s, Del Shannon was attempting a comeback. Tom Petty had worked with him and included the line “Me and Del were singing ‘Little Runaway'” in Petty’s “Running Down a Dream.” Even though Shannon’s career was about to be rekindled, he suffered from severe bouts of depression. His last performance came at the Surf Ballroom on February 3, 1990, the thirty-first anniversary of the Holly plane crash. His backing band that night was the Crickets. Del returned home and on February 9, 1990, took out his shotgun and took his own life. Shannon was unaware that he had been just been selected to take the late Roy Orbison’s place in the superstar band the Traveling Wilburys. Some medical experts claimed that the antidepressants Del was taking might have contributed to his death, while others remembered another night just thirty-one years earlier when three young rock stars soared into the heavens to gain rock and roll immortality. The last performance for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Del Shannon was at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Dion and Paul Simon

There’s nothing better than a great vocal melody, except maybe one with the perfect harmonies.  Here two legends, Dion DiMucci and Paul Simon, sing an ode to their city.  It’s a beautiful song that makes you remember that there is no instrument as moving as the human voice.  I am looking forward to Dion’s album, which comes out this month.  This song, New York is My Home, is also the title song for the album.

Add on:  Notice the phrasing of the singing, where it is slightly behind the beat.  The singing is also understated.  There is no showing off, though there are harmonies that are quite impressive in and of themselves.  The singers are not making a “meal” out of every note, which often happens in todays pop music.  The best singing almost always comes back to delivering the song.  It’s about letting go of the ego and giving over to the important thing at hand, which is the song.  

Hannah Arendt and Anti-Semitism

One of my favorite political writers, aside from George Orwell, is Hannah Arendt.  Right now I am reading her book The Origins of Totalitarianism.  I have read a great deal about Nazi Germany, World War II, and world politics between the World Wars.  However, despite this, I have never completely understood how so many were captivated by such vehement anti-semitism.  A conversation with a friend made me realize that as much as I had read, I only had some vague notion of how such an ideology could be so popular.  The first part of this book attempts to explain how this modern form of anti-semitism arose.  Arendt, an assimilated German Jew, was able to escape Nazi Germany and eventually make her way to America.  Arendt’s work is challenging, not because of the language, but because of the complexity of the ideas apparent in it. I don’t feel that I am at a point that I can do a great job summing up her ideas.  The subject matter, as are most large scale issues in the world, is complex, dealing with history and political theory, not only of those that eventually became anti-semetic, but also of Jewish history, and the politics of power, that would take a writer far greater than I to do a short summery of it.  Really the best way to understand it is to read her book, which I think is really worth it.  In examining this subject, it has not only made me think about anti-semitism, but the complexity of politics and history in general.  Human beings love simple stories and often myths.  But the truth of the world often is only obscured by our wish for simplicity.  She had one of the great minds of the 20th Century.  She was not only able to balance many different ideas and disciplines at once, but was relentless in her pursuit of the truth.  The pressure to tell a simpler story must have been immense.  If you view her in her time period, a Jew during one of the most horrific events in all of history, and woman, who did much of her most important work in America before the Feminist movement, she only seems more fearless.

One of the Best Songs of the Year

I’m still gathering my thoughts on the whole album, but there is no doubt the last song, Hands Together,  on the I Don’t Cares (Paul Westerberg, Juliana Hatfield) new album, Wild Stab, will undoubtedly be one of the best of the year. I’ve read that Westerberg suffers from dyslexia, though who knows what is true these days, especially with someone like Westerberg, who is often far more direct in song than interview.  (His recent interview with Peter Wolf was a revelation, due to the length and directness of Westerberg’s answers.)  There are certain lyrics of his that have an almost dyslexic quality to them, and I’m not talking about his solo single Dyslexic Heart.  His words can have a jumbled feeling, although one that creates insight, rather than hinders it.  I thought about posting the lyrics to the song, but the way the words unravel in song on first listen, the sheer revelation of it, is one of the most powerful things about the song.  There is a beautiful rambling confusion to the words, which don’t seem correct at first, but upon repeated spins creates a deeply personal and poetic reflection of an internal emotional state.  The song is highly intelligent, but not because it creates clarity of the world at large.  In fact it is a complex, highly detailed painting of not what the world is, but how it can feel to face the world, a world such as our own, one that is often filled with confusion and meaninglessness.  It’s a beautiful, sad, yet occasionally hopeful song, of one seemingly trying to make sense of a world that often makes no sense at all.

The Timeliness of Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater’

“Samuel thundered that no American factory hand was worth more than eighty cents a day. And yet he could be thankful for the opportunity to pay a hundred thousand dollars or more for a painting by an Italian three centuries dead. And he capped this insult by giving paintings to museums for the spiritual elevation of the poor. The museums were closed on Sundays.” 

As I read more and more news articles about jobs that one day might be done by machines, I have been thinking about Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.  One of the many things the book deals with is an American economy where income inequality has destroyed the American dream.  One of the reasons is that it is so in the book is automation, a topic that has only increased in relevance since the book was written in 1965.  The above quote doesn’t deal with automation, but demonstrates Vonnegut’s ability to get to the truth of our culture through comic absurdity.  Overall the book is a comedy that features a great deal of moral outrage at the inequality of our system.  If these issues interest you, then I would highly recommend reading this book.

Here is another section of the book that is always with me:

I think it’s terrible the way people don’t share things in this country. The least a government could do, it seems to me, is to divide things up fairly among the babies. There’s plenty for everybody in this country, if we’d only share more.

“And just what do you think that would do to incentive?”

You mean fright about not getting enough to eat, about not being able to pay the doctor, about not being able to give your family nice clothes, a safe, cheerful, comfortable place to live, a decent education, and a few good times? You mean shame about not knowing where the Money River is?

“The what?”

The Money River, where the wealth of the nation flows. We were born on the banks of it. We can slurp from that mighty river to our hearts’ content. And we even take slurping lessons, so we can slurp more efficiently.

“Slurping lessons?”

From lawyers! From tax consultants! We’re born close enough to the river to drown ourselves and the next ten generations in wealth, simply using dippers and buckets. But we still hire the experts to teach us the use of aqueducts, dams, reservoirs, siphons, bucket brigades, and the Archimedes’ screw. And our teachers in turn become rich, and their children become buyers of lessons in slurping.

“It’s still possible for an American to make a fortune on his own.”

Sure—provided somebody tells him when he’s young enough that there is a Money River, that there’s nothing fair about it, that he had damn well better forget about hard work and the merit system and honesty and all that crap, and get to where the river is. ‘Go where the rich and powerful are,’ I’d tell him, ‘and learn their ways. They can be flattered and they can be scared. Please them enormously or scare them enormously, and one moonless night they will put their fingers to their lips, warning you not to make a sound. And they will lead you through the dark to the widest, deepest river of wealth ever known to man. You’ll be shown your place on the riverbank, and handed a bucket all your own. Slurp as much as you want, but try to keep the racket of your slurping down. A poor man might hear.’

That’s How the West Was Lost

Down off the interstate
In the middle of the fall
We killed off the Indians
And we put up a mall
And we claimed we did it
In the name of St. Paul

That’s how the west was lost

We paint the faces and names
Of those we kill
In theme restaurants
In bars and grills
And we get indignant
When it makes their ancestors ill

That’s how the West was lost

Manifest Destiny
Or “living space”
Is the same thing
By any other name

That’s how the West was lost

Lyrics from That’s How the West Was Lost.

These are the lyrics to a song on an album I recorded recently, that will be appearing later this year.  More on this to come.

Living space, or Lebensraum, is what Hitler wanted for his Third Reich.  You can read more about this topic and Manifest Destiny at this post I wrote last year:

Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum

 

A Disagreement with Ta-Nehisi Coates

I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the best and brightest writers of his generation, but lately I have had a problem with his approach to politics, especially his criticisms of Bernie Sanders.  I think it was Chuck D that said that when white people face a recession, black people face a depression.  (Paraphrased)  I totally think that is the truth.  There is no doubt that black people face inequality, not only in income, but across the board when it comes to rule of law.  One can simply look at the violence directed towards black people by the police in comparison to white people.  And these things are only touching the surface.  However, I can’t help but feel that Coates addresses everything through a one issue lens, while also misunderstanding the realities of presidential politics.  I want the same end goals as Coates does, but I feel that his approach is misguided.

America made progress on a whole host of issues from Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, through the Civil Rights and other movements of the 60’s,  until the rise of Ronald Reagan.  Since Reagan the working and middle class of this country have have seen tremendous setbacks.  There is no doubt that these setbacks have affected blacks and other minorities worse than whites.  One of the truths of American power, since the Civil War, that has been more or less effective at different time periods, has been to divide and conquer.  Lower class whites and blacks, which in reality have much in common, have been pitted against each other.  (Often all too easily I’m afraid.)

Aside from rare achievements like Obamacare, which many of us on the left think didn’t go far enough, true progressive goals have been sidelined.  This is due to the Republicans ability to siphon off white working class voters.  But this is also due to the fragmented nature of the left, where each group has their pet issue, instead of uniting for the greater common good.  In a capitalist society, money is power.  Unions have been destroyed.  Healthcare still doesn’t reach enough people.  Education has been robbed of the kind of value that allows people to think critically, not only making people less intelligent politically, but preventing the kind of fluid intelligence that allows people to change jobs with changing times.  The right and left argue over culture matters.  The left is guilty of this for sure.  Instead of addressing issues that will lead to a fairer system, inequality is attacked in a series of patchwork attempts, always leaving some other hole for problems to arise.

Politics is also largely a realm of the realistic.  One can only harness energy and attention for so long.  How do you do the most good with limited energy?  What topics does one tackle first?  A president must not only try to balance the wishes of many groups simultaneously, but is also constricted through very real laws that balance the power of government between different branches.  That is how the presidency has been since the founding of our country.  The founding fathers did not create a dictatorship.

It is true that there is a need for certain kinds of extremists and dreamers in the political realm.  You need people that push the envelope, that hold those in power accountable.  I am by no means saying that these people don’t have their place.  But when this becomes the norm, I think you will see that a political party stands a very slim chance of getting anything done that will last.  There have to be those that understand the reality of law, how to get laws actually passed, etc.  As a musician, I am a dreamer.  But as a History and eventually an American Studies Major, I also know that there needs to be those in power than understand the mechanisms of government.

One of my favorite writers is George Orwell.  Orwell was a democratic socialist that was also highly critical of the utopian left.  He understood that if you wanted to raise the living of the working class, you had to get them on your side.  Orwell understood the plight of miners in Northern England, even if intellectually and culturally he was quite different.  He understood why these people had certain religious and cultural beliefs.  A certain kind of culture and education influences the way one thinks.  Attacking something someone holds dear, if it is not related to the matter at hand, especially if in all other ways they would be open to an important political goal, is foolish.  In politics, you have to be willing to meet people where they are at.

I believe that overall Sanders and Coates want the same end goal.  They both want to live in a fairer country where there is more opportunity for all people, where everyone is treated equally under the rule of law.  But Coates as been critical of Sanders for not taking up one of his explicit political causes.  If he was attacking a sitting political power I would deem what he is doing as noble and necessary to the political process.

However, in an election cycle, especially when the opposing choices are so horrendous, I can’t help but think of what he is doing is foolish.  Sanders largely shares the same goals, even if he views getting there differently.  Why, when critiquing someone, would you pick Sanders?  Coates explains this, but I just can’t agree with him.  (And anyone that thinks all politicians are the same needs to merely think how recent historical events would have played out if Gore would have won instead of Bush.  At least Bill Maher is honest enough to admit he should have not voted for Nader.  And if you don’t believe voting matters, that politicians are the same, there are probably thousands of dead Iraqis that would say differently, if only they could.)

In a perfect world there would possibly be a greater variety among the candidates.  But politics is again partially dealing with the realities of a situation.  These are the candidates that we have.  Sanders might not be checking off every box for Coates, but doesn’t he run the risk of helping to elect someone that is either completely part of the status quo, with Hillary, or someone that is actually opposed to Coates brand of politics?  This is an election cycle where certain candidates are outright demonizing minorities.  Well this might be election year B.S, I can’t help but feel that there is a dark undercurrent in the right that will actually see the light if one of the Republicans is elected.

I view income inequality and climate change as the two biggest issues of our day.  With climate change, if that isn’t addressed, all other issues may be worthless, as we might all end up sharing a world that isn’t worth living in.  There is also a clock on that issue.  We only have so long to get it right.  The Democrats are much better on that issue than the Republicans.  It is also worth saying that the poorest people in the world will be affected the most by climate change, many of them minorities.

Income inequality affects people from all races, even if it is disproportionately affecting minorities.  How long can we live in a world where 65 people hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion, before there is a revolution that doesn’t not happen through the comparatively peaceful channels of politics?  Sanders is the best candidate on this issue.  Again, I’m not saying his platform would go far enough in addressing all wrongs, but I think it is the platform that would do the most good for the most people.

These is not saying that there are not other issues that this country needs to address by any means.  But a candidate that can make a difference on these issues can do good for a great amount of people, including minorities.  In a year when so many things are on the line, should not those of us that share common goals, do our best to put away our differences for the time being?  I have my own personal checkbox of things I would like to see changed, but I know what is first and foremost of importance.  I’m not even arguing that Coates should not be adding to the dialog, saying certain proposals don’t go far enough.  But I find his particular criticism of the candidate closest to him to be troubling.  I just can’t help but feel Coates is doing some harm right now, along with some good, when it comes to the political future of this country.

 

 

Paul Westerberg Interviewed by Peter Wolf

Paul Westerberg Interviewed By Peter Wolf

Above is an hour long video interview of Paul Westerberg by fellow musician Peter Wolf.  Westerberg, along with Juliana Hatfield, released the new album Wild Stab under the band name The I Don’t Cares.  Anyone interested in music should check this interview out.  It’s not often that you see such a long interview in the music world that is also substantive.  Westerberg is one of our country’s greatest living songwriters and this interview takes him into his recording process, among other things.