Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Dez Reviews Neil Young + Promise of the Real’s ‘Earth’ and Neil Young's 'Peace Trail', both 2016

Neil Young is releasing records at such a clip these days, perhaps it is easier just to do one post at the end of each year covering all of that year’s releases. Even though I am as big a fan of Neil's as you will find, even I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing. Neil is in the midst of a decade of releases that are as puzzling and as frustrating (and often as bad) as his infamous 80’s stretch.

In fact, his last two studio albums (The Monsanto Years and Storytone) have to rank amongst his very worst. So, the fact that these two new records are mediocre and at least each have a few songs and moments that I will actually return to, that is a small blessing.

We’ll start with Earth. One of the very disappointing things about The Monsanto Years was that the band that Neil recorded with is awesome. Promise of the Real features Willie Nelson’s sons, and they offer backing that sounds like a more polished and younger Crazy Horse. So they are given another shot with this double live record, capturing them on their recent tour.

Neil has always been concerned with environmental issues, so he put together a concept live record of sorts, featuring some songs from Monsanto Years and other environmentally-themed tunes from his vast catalogue. Oddly, he decided also to intersperse animal and nature sounds seemingly at random throughout the record. So they may be blazing away on “Vampire Blues,” and for no discernible reason other than Neil's whimsy screeching crows will come in and out of the mix, or chirping crickets, or a little rainstorm. I guess he’s trying to maintain the natural theme, but it sounds very unnatural actually. Just one of Neil’s crazy ideas that fluttered into his overactive mind and he pondered for about ten seconds before making the decision to add it to the record. But whatever, it does add a bit of quirkiness to the proceedings, and is not as distracting as you might expect.

ABOVE: Cawing crows feature prominently on Neil Young's Earth

As for the music, the thematic approach works well. Even the bad Monsanto Years tracks are better here, because at least they have some more drive in the live setting and are surrounded by better songs (if that makes sense). And Neil wisely chooses a mix of the obscure (“Hippie Dream” (one of his best 80’s tracks), “Western Hero,” “Vampire Blues” and “Human Highway”) with a few golden oldies like “After the Goldrush” to maintain a consistent nature/environmental theme throughout. And the performances are spirited, with Promise of the Real adding fire to Neil’s music. Things do drag with the closing 30 minute “Love and Only Love,” though.

Neil recorded Peace Trail in four days, and it sounds like it. He has been very active in the Dakota Pipeline protests, so not surprisingly, several of these songs directly address that issue. But at least he does rediscover some (just some) subtlety in his message (say, vs. Monsanto Years or Living With War). While he still does preach and lecture (“Indian Giver”), a song like “Show Me” really works well.

His lyrics remain his weak spot nowadays, but I do like the instrumentation and overall sound here. He uses Paul Bushnell on bass and Jim Keltner on drums. Keltner is crucial to the sound, adding as much with his toms as Neil does with his guitars. I have always loved Keltner’s drumming, with his seemingly so-loose-he-might-lose-it style, but always staying right in the pocket. Neil continues to experiment with sounds, amplifying his harmonica to such a degree that it sounds like jarring, stabbing distortion. He even plays with a vocoder again, bringing up memories of Trans, to surprisingly good effect.

It is clear that Neil is no longer interested in spending a lot of time crafting songs. The tune “Texas Rangers,” for instance, sounds like the first take that it probably was, with the band still trying to figure out what is going on. You can see Bushnell and Keltner asking Neil “OK, so are we ready to try and record a few practice takes now?” With Neil replying “what do you mean? That was the master take. It’s going on the record. Let’s move on.” Much of the record sounds like that. One reviewer commented that the song is so rough that it even makes a seasoned session drummer like Jim Keltner sound confused and lost. “Texas Rangers,” by the way, is probably in the top 10 worst songs Neil has ever recorded. Another reviewer generously compared it to jazz. In the sense that he was probably making it all up on the spot, perhaps.

But fortunately, there are some keepers here too. The title track is great, and one of the only songs that sounds fleshed out and actually thought about for more than 10 minutes. It has a wonderful mix of Neil’s acoustic strumming punctuated by stabs of his signature electric guitar. The aforementioned “Show Me” has an infectious groove that sticks with you. My favorite tune here is “My Pledge,” a weird almost talking blues that is made otherworldly with Neil doubling his vocals with a purposely slightly out of sync vocoder line that has a ghostly beauty to it.

Earth: *** out of *****
Peace Trail: *** out of *****

Friday, December 9, 2016

Two RIP's

I've got two wonderful innovators to add to the GNABB cemetery.

RIP John Glenn, 1921-2016

I know it’s a cliché, but do they make men like this anymore? I mean seriously. John Glenn was such of a different era, a different America. An America that was full of hope, that looked to the future, that was rising so fast that it broke the bonds of gravity and the earth. True, America wasn’t so rosy for many people during the Cold War era. Segregation still existed. I’m not downplaying that at all. But John Glenn and his fellow astronauts represented the best of what we were then. Duty, brains, work ethic, dreamer but with the technical know-how to actually reach those impossible dreams as the rest of the world watched slack-jawed. (I know the Soviets kept up and actually led for a little while, but that didn't last).

There was something extra special about the Mercury astronauts to me. Even more than the Apollo missions, as great as they were, these seven astronauts (and Glenn was the last of them, so they are all a memory now) were true pioneers. Talk about calm under pressure, John Glenn was the most celebrated of them all. It takes a special kind of man to sit on top of a missile that has a decent chance of blowing up at ignition. The re-entry drama and Glenn’s cool response during his history making first American to orbit the earth mission is the stuff of legend. He showed that no matter how technically advanced we think we are, sometimes it still takes the human instincts and decision-making of a pilot to get the ship down.

I know a big part of my romanticizing the Mercury program comes from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Right Stuff. Glenn was played pitch perfectly by the great Ed Harris. Maybe I need to pop that in tonight, and bask in a bygone age when the sky wasn’t the limit. John Glenn and the other six Mercury astronauts showed us that we could dare to go beyond the sky. Our moon landing, our eventual trip to Mars, even our eventual eventual colonizing and moving off the earth once we have destroyed it beyond repair…the foundation of all of that was John Glenn…and Alan Sheppard, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper, Wally Shirra, Deke Slayton and Scott Carpenter.

So not only RIP John Glenn. I can now say RIP The Mercury Seven. And thank you all for showing us what we can be and accomplish.


RIP Greg Lake, 1947-2016

Man, 2016 has been a deadly year for music. As well-known and respected as Greg Lake was, I always felt that he could have done more. He sang and played bass on the groundbreaking King Crimson debut In the Court of the Crimson King (and sang on the follow-up), but then left the band to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer. As a massive Crimson fan, I have always felt that was a lost opportunity. It would have been fantastic to get two or three more records with Lake and Robert Fripp working together under the Crimson banner before moving on.

I could never get into ELP very much. I do love me some prog rock, but ELP has aged terribly. My favorite ELP tunes are the more down to earth folky Greg Lake numbers like “Lucky Man” and “Still You Turn Me On.”

Regardless of his career choices, the man was hugely talented. Great and expressive singer, virtuoso on the electric bass, and a good guitarist too. RIP Greg Lake.

Friday, November 18, 2016

What Happened And Why (Maybe)

There was a great op-ed by Fareed Zakaria with his autopsy of the election here.  In it, he echoes the collective mea culpa coming from many journalists and pollsters who got their predictions so spectacularly wrong (many of the same journalists who enabled Trump).  He admits that the great sin of the Left has been elitism.  He cites an op-ed from the satirical website Cracked by David Wong, who grew up in rural Illinois.  I know it is partly satire, but Zakaria was right to quote it at length in his own op-ed, because it is key to understanding Trump’s surprising victory.  Wong writes: “The whole g***amned world revolves around [America’s cities].”  Zakaria writes “The vast majority of the country’s pop culture is all about city dwellers. Most new movies, shows, songs and games are about New York or Los Angeles or Chicago or some fantasy version of them. Nearly every trend comes from a metropolis. All the hot new industries are in hip cities.”  Back to Wong: “If you live in [rural America], that f*cking sucks…To those ignored, suffering people, Donald Trump is a brick chucked through the window of the elites. ‘Are you a**holes listening now?’”

That last line is key.  “Are you a**holes listening now?”  To me, that explains Trump’s election more than any data could show.  I continue to think that most (many?) of the people who voted for Trump did so in spite of his rhetoric regarding women, immigrants and various minorities, not because of it.  Or maybe because of it, but not for the reason you might think.

Look at the electoral map.  The Democrat blue is on each of the coasts (and in some urban centers all over the country), and in between is a vast ocean of red.  “Flyover country” as the traditional media often unwittingly dismisses most of the rest of the country (traditional media being centered in New York and Los Angeles).  Well, there are a lot of people who live in that vast region between the coasts.  A lot of people who have seen wages stagnate or their jobs go to other countries.  A lot of people who have been pushed to the background amidst admirable but news-dominating struggles for minority rights and issues.

People from all walks of life have gotten angrier and more disgusted with disconnected and dysfunctional politics.  People are equally angry at both major parties.  Bernie Sanders’ success was the populist Left flipside of the Trump coin.  Same root anger.  As another op-ed I read put it, lots of voters wanted to throw a Molotov cocktail at Washington.  No matter that the Molotov cocktail says mean things about women or minorities.  He is a blunt weapon whose purpose is to bust things up.  Which is also a variation on the primal, resentful, desperate plea of “Are you a**holes listening now?”  As Zakaria admitted, “yes, I am listening now.”

Yes, Trump got the Klan vote.  There are plenty of people who are old fashioned racists and nativists who voted for Trump.  But I don’t think that is why most people voted for him.  Many others are the forgotten voters in Kansas who barely make ends meet yet who are still patriotic Americans (or who may even be veterans or have a close friend or loved one who is a veteran) and are tired of turning on Sunday night football and watching a whiny back-up quarterback who makes a million dollars a year refuse to stand for the national anthem.  That explains the Trump vote too.  Believe me. It is more complicated than simple racism. An aggressive and at times haughty, elitist Left creating "safe places" at universities. A protest movement that at times cares less about the actual facts of certain cases than the color of the skin of those involved in an altercation and that demonizes the country's police officers wholesale. A welfare system that had admirably been reformed in the 1990's (under a Democratic president and Republican Congress) that has slipped back to making it more profitable to collect government payments than to work in many cases. All of these things have contributed to the backlash that manifested itself in a Trump win.

How did the pollsters get it so wrong? As the elitist mainstream media often does, they probably concentrated too much on the urban vote. Where all the action is. Also, as a friend of mine who voted for Trump told me the other day:
"if a pollster had called me and asked me who I was going to vote for, I probably would not have told them. I would have confirmed that I'm a registered Republican, but I probably would have said 'undecided.' Same goes for some of my family members. To avoid the arguments and agitation, I wouldn't have, and haven't, told certain family members that I was going to vote for Trump. He wasn't my first choice, I don't like him. He's crude and rude and an egomaniac. But given the choices, I had to vote for him. Plus, I was pissed at the direction this country was going."
I think that summarizes it for many. Also, do not overlook just how flawed and weak Trump's opponent was. I think this country would be ready to elect a woman. Just not Hillary Clinton (yes, I know she won the popular vote. I reluctantly voted for her myself).

On to what we have to look forward to for at least the next four years (barring impeachment).  I don’t think Trump is as radical or reactionary as he campaigned.  If you look at many of his positions prior to the campaign, he was very moderate, and had as many left positions as right.  You also hear many testimonials that in person, behind closed doors when it is time to get down to business, he is a very different man.  A more sober and reflective man.  I have also heard that Trump actually does take counsel and listen to advice.  Not that they have much in common, but like George Washington, I can see Trump leaving the details to key underlings and he makes the final decisions after being briefed.

Herein lies another problem.  Who will be advising and briefing him?  George Washington had the dueling visions of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton advising him and giving him options from which to choose.  "Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and a vindictive young son in law" doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.  I was heartened to see Trump choose Priebus for Chief of Staff, about as establishment as you can get.  But then Bannon.  There’s your Molotov cocktail, the Alt-Right now in the Oval Office with the president’s ear.  It is like Trump is trying to please establishment, mainstream Republicans (by choosing Priebus) and also the radical Right Wing (Bannon) by pitting these two figures against each other in his administration.  There is something to be said for establishing competing centers of power within an administration from which to take advice (again, see Jefferson and Hamilton for Washington; or Lincoln’s cabinet).  But then it requires a wise arbiter as “the Decider” (in George W.’s words).

I didn’t vote for him.  But I am willing to give him a chance.  He is, after all, my next president.  And yours too, like it or not.  I understand the fear and disbelief, especially if you are amongst the many groups whom Trump insulted and marginalized and dehumanized during the campaign (yes, I know it is easier for me as a white male to sit back and say ‘give the guy a chance’).  But I also think we all need to at least wait for him to mess up before we get too angry with him.  What choice do we have, really?  These marchers in the streets eventually need to get back to their jobs, if they have any. Or maybe Trump will create real jobs for them, as he promised. Who knows.

One of my main concerns is his lack of preparedness and how influenced he can be by those around him.  Contrary to him not listening to people, he actually listens too much at times.  Since he is not actually prepared to be president and because he shows no real desire or ability to dive deep into policy, he depends on others to give him all of the information and perspective.  His partial reversal on Obamacare this last week is a case in point.  During the campaign he blustered that he would repeal Obamacare wholesale “the first day in office” and replace it with “something better.”  But after meeting with Obama for an hour and a half and actually reading a bit about Obamacare (apparently for the first time), he now thinks we should keep part of it and change other parts.  (Or has he reverted back to getting rid of it wholesale?  Hard to keep track.)  Put Trump in a room with Vladimir Putin for a couple of hours and who knows?  Maybe he will emerge supporting a new Iron Curtain.  That is the problem with being willfully out of your depth on almost every issue.  Others will pick and choose how to explain things to him, and he will not know enough about it to call BS when warrented, but be more influenced by whoever flattered him the most, or who had the most charismatic personality, or maybe even whoever talked to him most recently. That is my fear.

Friday, October 21, 2016

2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

Once again, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced the nominees for a new class.  Within the last year or so there has been a shake-up on the nomination committee, which has resulted in better and more varied nominees.  They reduced the number of members, which sounds ominous, but I think they kicked off mostly dead weight, and the fewer members gives them a chance to really debate and kick these names around a bit more.  Previously ignored genres and eras seem to be getting more attention.

The problem in recent years lies less with the Nominating Committee and more with the voters themselves.  The voters are critics, record industry folk and all living inductees.  Therein lies the flaw.  While I respect Jerry Lee Lewis, I am not sure how much he can really evaluate the contributions of Kraftwerk to modern music.  Although, there is word that they expanded the voters by a couple more hundred, and I bet it was to add more critics and experts to dilute Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Simmons.  Estimates vary, but there are around 800-1000 voters who will cast their votes for these nominees.

If recent patterns hold, then 5-7 of these 19 nominees will be announced in December as part of the Class of 2017.

If you go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website, you can cast a fan ballot (they will let you vote once a day, reacting to the fan vote debacle of last year where a bot flooded the fan vote).  The total fan votes will count as ONE ballot.  Hardly any real influence, but at least you can feel like you played a small part in the process, so I appreciate it.  Also, don’t know if it is just coincidence or it just logically falls this way, but every year the #1 vote getter in the fan poll has also been inducted.

I will briefly discuss the nominees, give you my personal picks, and then my prediction of what will happen.  In alphabetically order…

Joan Baez: in some respects it is strange that she has not been inducted already.  The Hall loves singer-songwriters, and she was on the folk front lines with Dylan and others in the early days.  Not a fan, but I respect her impact.  It is hard to figure out her chances.  It is a crowded field with big names, yet the Hall likes their singer-songwriters and there might be enough 60’s refugee voters to give her more votes than you might initially expect.

Bad Brains: More than any other nominee, this one reflects the new blood on the Committee.  I’ve got to be honest.  I’ve heard the name, but I had to look them up to figure out exactly who they were.  Hardcore punk pioneers who also experimented with reggae and other styles of music.  Influential on the punk and 80’s underground.  A bit too obscure in this field to have much of a chance, but the nomination itself is a victory.

The Cars: One of my all time favorite bands, am so glad to see them back (they were nominated for the first time last year and didn’t make it).  They’ve clearly got some boosters on the Committee.  I have to think they came close last year, and I think they’ve got a good shot this year.  Ric Ocasek’s acerbic 80’s pop is just so sharp and brilliant.  I will push hard for the Cars this year.  Ocasek has worked with a lot of artists as a producer, and many of the voters are artists.  The Cars are one of those few bands that still have a cache of cool and hipness, yet they are also all over classic rock and 80’s radio.  They had critical respect and also sold a ton of product.

Chic: Have mercy on Nile Rodgers and Chic!  Please!  Induct them already.  The Nominating Committee is being stubborn here, this is a record 11th nomination.  Looks like the voters are being equally stubborn.  On this, I think the Committee is right.  Chic were pioneers in dance and funk music, and Nile Rodgers
has been an influential producer.  I don’t know if it is still some anti-disco bias (although ABBA and Donna Summer are in), or whether the voters just don’t appreciate the same band being forced on them.  But this is embarrassing.  As far as I go, I always feel like they are worthy, but there are usually five candidates that I want more.  Maybe that is part of it too.

Depeche Mode: Very happy to see this nomination, this is their first.  The Committee has been trying to get more 80’s pioneers in, but the voters don’t seem to be biting.  In the last few years, The Cure, The Smiths and The Replacements have been nominated but not inducted.  I feel like the same will happen here.  All should get in eventually.  Although before Depeche Mode, there is another nominee this year who should go in first (see Kraftwerk.)

Electric Light Orchestra: Surprisingly, this is the first nomination for Jeff Lynne’s band.  Gotta admit, not a big fan.  Lynne is too Beatles-influenced for me, and wears those influences way too much on his sleeve.  They have their fans, and Lynne has worked with a ton of already-inducted artists, so I think ELO has a decent shot.  He is also the only remaining Traveling Wilbury not inducted.

J. Geils Band: The story is that Jann Wenner and Steve Van Zandt are the big boosters for J. Geils.  For me, this is a case of a great band, but not Rockhall worthy.  There are a lot of great bands that should not be in the Hall of Fame (just as there are many great athletes who don’t quite get to their sports Halls of Fame).  Great blues-based rock band with a fierce live reputation, but that ain’t enough.

Janet Jackson: There has been a huge Induct Janet movement building over the last few years, and she is unquestionably Hallworthy.  She was nominated for the first time last year, and it was a surprise that she didn’t get in.  She will.  So many of today’s pop divas owe Michael’s little sister.

Jane’s Addiction: We definitely are moving into the 90’s now.  Was not a fan, and I wonder how much of this is for Perry Farrell’s work on Lollapalooza.  I don’t see them getting in this time around.

Journey: Woo!!  Hold up cigarette lighters now for the power ballads and Steve Perry’s pink muscle shirts!  A Journey nomination would have been impossible five or more years ago, but in recent years there has been a more populist trend (Chicago and Steve Miller got in last year, KISS and Rush recently).  Despised by critics, loved by the masses.  Corporate Rock at its best (or worst?)  I’ve always loved Journey, and I think they have a shot at topping the fan poll (like Chicago did last year).  Is “Don’t Stop Believin’” the 80’s “Stairway To Heaven”?  I say let ‘em in.  If Rock and Roll is a popular music, as in for the masses, then Journey is it.

Chaka Khan: She’s been nominated with Rufus and also solo, which is kind of confusing.  I think she’ll be overshadowed by Janet Jackson, although she could also split some votes and prevent either of them from getting in.

Kraftwerk: I think the most influential and deserving of any of these nominees.  You cannot overstate their influence on any music that is electronic, programmed, dance or synth-based.  The problem is that few Americans have actually listened to their music (they are German).  I happen to love their music, but I doubt they get in this time around.  If the voters were only made of music historians, they’d be a shoo-in.

MC5: Furious punk precursors and revolutionaries.  Not a lot of name recognition, though.  Probably should be in for the track “Kick Out the Jams” alone, which is more rock and roll than anything else I can think of.

Pearl Jam: If there is anything such as a sure thing, this is it.  Pearl Jam will get in, they can already start writing their acceptance speech and plan their setlist for the ceremony.  This is the first year they are eligible, and like Nirvana a couple of years ago, the nomination and voting is a mere formality.  Pearl Jam has everything the Rockhall wants and needs: still a working and beloved band so it modernizes the Hall, respected by everyone, but (unlike Nirvana) they also are as close to a classic rock band that the 90’s produced.

Steppenwolf: It looked like the Hall was finally ready to close the door on the 60’s, but not quite.  There are still some stragglers.  Steppenwolf were huge for about five years, and have some absolutely iconic songs (“Born to Be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” “The Pusher”).  Not pushing for them, but wouldn’t be upset if they got in either.  They are one of those borderline bands.

Joe Tex: Great funky soul artist.  In my view kinda second tier, and probably won’t make it through this field.

Tupac Shakur: The first rap/hip hop solo superstar, his ghost still haunts the whole genre.  The old “does rap belong in the Rockhall” argument is dead amongst everyone not named Gene Simmons.  Many predict Tupac will get in this year (the first year he’s eligible), but I have a feeling he may wait a few more nominations like NWA did (who finally got in last year).  The lifestyle and subject matter of his music still makes many voters uncomfortable.

Yes: The fact that Yes is still trying to get inducted is patently absurd to me.  There are genres that have been neglected by the Hall, and progressive rock is definitely one, but come on.  Whether you are a fan or not, just objectively speaking, any artist who has been an innovator and at the forefront of any genre within rock and roll should by definition be in the Hall.  Add their longevity and that they have innovated and helped to define a genre and gotten substantial airplay and sold tons of records…what is the deal here?!

The Zombies: Another Steve Van Zandt 60’s pet project.  That’s not quite fair, The Zombies were a great band with some, pardon the pun, haunting pop songs.  Borderline for me.

So, there you have it.  My personal votes:

The Cars
Depeche Mode
If a 6th and 7th: Pearl Jam and Janet Jackson

What I think will happen:

Pearl Jam
Janet Jackson
If a 6th and 7th: The Cars and Tupac Shakur

What do you think?

As usual, to discuss all things Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Future Rock Legends is the place to go.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

GNABB Reluctantly Endorses Hillary Clinton

In the almost eight and a half years that GNABB has been helping to shape American culture and thought, the editorial board here has never endorsed a Democrat. We espouse a center-right ideology around these parts. But we at GNABB must now break from party for the good of country. This is less an endorsement of Hillary Clinton than a complete rejection of Donald J. Trump. But in order to reject Trump and save our country, that necessitates a default endorsement of Clinton. (Stein and the Green Party are silly, and Gary 'Aleppo' Johnson had a shot at a protest endorsement, until he proved himself less informed than my six year old).

Oh where to begin. I actually don't think Trump, at heart, is a racist. He's almost as bad, though, in the sense that he uses racism as an opportunist does. He carelessly courts a dangerous and until recently mostly dormant (other than in dark corners of the internet) racism amongst frustrated working class whites and those who pander to them. This racism was slowly fading, or at least had been kept around dinner tables and in chatrooms. Trump has brought this ugliness into the mainstream culture. But I also blame the Left. I blame them for creating an intolerable and intolerant politically correct environment in higher education, for supporting a vitriol-laced attack on law enforcement, for a weak and feckless foreign policy for eight years...the time had come for a strong, conservative resurgence. But instead of finding the next Ronald Reagan, the Republicans found Donald f*cking Trump. A crude, sexist, bloviating, attention-seeking, delusional (remember this one from the convention: "I alone can fix it"), insecure/pompous reality TV star with a frightfully short attention span. Trump is not stupid. Far from it. He is a master manipulator. But he cannot seem to focus long enough on any one topic to really deal with serious issues. Watch his interviews. The guy is all over the place without saying anything.

Trump's economic plan, such as it is, would add trillions to our debt.

I can't even discern a coherent foreign policy. At different times, he has said the following: he would crush ISIS, let the Russians handle ISIS and we should stay out of it, we should go take Iraq's oil, we should encourage nuclear proliferation in Asia, we should rethink NATO (just as Putin has visions of a new Russian Empire), Vladimir Putin is a great guy, Mexico will pay for a Wall that it does not want to exist, Brexit was a great idea. I know it's a campaign line, but what Clinton says is true. Trump is a man who can be provoked with a tweet or a well placed insult. Just look at this week. Clinton masterfully distracted him and drew him into a feud with a former Ms. Universe who put on some pounds. Imagine how Putin could toy with Trump for the next four years?

I could go on and on, but I don't really need to. I have proudly been a Never Trump conservative from the beginning. Trump has highjacked the Republican Party. Both parties have masses of people that have voted for them, but have been kept out of the decisionmaking. The Democrats contained their kooks when they were able to shut the Bernie Sanders movement down; unfortunately the Republican Party has been taken over by its most ignorant, unthinking, reactionary constituencies. Trump is not a conservative. He has no ideology at all, in fact. I stand with Mitt Romney and George H.W. Bush in their resistence and criticisms of Trump.

Finally, I oppose Donald Trump because I have two young daughters who I have been raising to respect themselves. Do I want their president to be a man who engages in public vendettas with almost any woman who publicly criticizes him? A man who has very publicly called certain women "pigs" and "dogs," even if they were just Rosie O'Donnell.

Perhaps one of the scariest things about Trump is that he is easily baited and cannot let criticisms go. Look at how viciously George W. Bush was attacked during his presidency, and how visciously Barack Obama has been attacked during his. Can you imagine Donald Trump being able to focus on the tasks of the presidency while being constantly criticized by his opponents and the media? He simply cannot let things go. He would spend most of his days in twitter wars and responding to every journalist who wrote a negative op-ed piece. In fact, he has openly discussed making it easier to sue journalists for defamation of public figures (translation: curtail freedom of speech and press).

I don't really have positive arguments for Hillary Clinton. She is capable, knowledgeable. She will continue the damaging policies of the Obama years, but we can recover from that. I think she is less ideological than Obama, and once elected, she will probably tack back more towards the center like her husband eventually did. At least that is my hope. She's got to keep the silly Bernie supporters in line until after the election. Then she can be reasonable again. By many accounts, she actually was a fairly effective Senator, and even many of her former Republican colleagues will quietly admit that she worked well across the aisle and listened to opposing views with a relatively open mind. Again, I hope that is the case and that she would be that kind of president.

But I do know that we cannot have Donald Trump as president. OK. So I just endorsed Hillary Clinton. I need to go take a shower now.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen...Corey Feldman

This is f*cking outstanding. Corey Feldman and his new band Corey's Angels performing on the Today Show. Check out how he has the girls in his band dressed. Think he's "helping make their dreams come true"? Oh, and it's a double concept album!

Monday, September 12, 2016

An Album I Love By an Artist I Don’t Like (and Albums I Hate by Artists I Love)

Throw enough sh*t at the wall, and something is bound to stick. It worked for FDR during the New Deal, and it sometimes works in music as well. If someone has a base level of musical skill and talent, over time, they are bound to get something right.

It is easy to hate Billy Joel. Very easy. When I was in middle school, though, I loved his music. I own most of his records on vinyl from back when I was buying vinyl before the dawn of CDs (now I am back to buying vinyl again). But his music has not aged well at all. He was cheeseball with the ballads, and when he tried to pose as a rocker it just looked and sounded ridiculous (“Big Shot,” anyone?)
But…there is one Billy Joel record that still sounds so great, and it remains amongst my favorite records. Songs In the Attic (1981) is a live record he put out with a specific purpose, and he accomplished it brilliantly. In the well written liner notes by Joel, he talks about how he was never happy with the way his first four records sounded. After he got big with The Stranger, his band gelled and they presented the early material live the way he had wanted all along.

Hence Songs in the Attic. These are live renditions of album tracks from the early records performed with his more (at the time) current band. He only had one pre-Stranger hit, and that was the ubiquitous “Piano Man,” and thankfully that is not even on this record. As he stated in the liner notes, “Piano Man” never sounds different live than on the recording anyway, so why bother putting it here? The tracks that are here are uniformly superior to their studio counterparts, so he was right to try and get them a second listen. They are all deep album cuts, and good choices. Even though they are taken from different shows and even tours, for whatever reason, the record has a real cohesion to it. It sounds like it was meant to be put together in this way.

It is often this way with music, but I remember listening to this record during a certain period in my youth. Pulling the vinyl out late the other night…wow. A strong wave of nostalgia and those memories of youth came flowing back. Makes sense that the record closes with his own nostalgic look back, “I’ve Loved These Days” (a much, much more effective song that his later cheesy semi-hit “This Is the Time,” which tries to cover the same ground).

Even if you don’t like Billy Joel, this record may be the exception to the rule for you. It certainly is for me.

Now, to be fair, records I hate by artists I otherwise love. There are actually many of these I could choose from. We all make mistakes, even the best of us. Here are some mistakes…

Neil Young: My favorite artist of all time. But Living With War and The Monsanto Years both sound like some angry old man with half the facts on some simplistic political rant. Might be OK over the dinner table with friends, but it doesn’t make for great records.

Bruce Springsteen: Human Touch, where Bruce completely loses his sound and makes a record with slick L.A. session players. By the numbers songwriting too. Working on a Dream, where Bruce finally becomes a parody of himself in places.

The Who: Endless Wire. I was genuinely intrigued with what a post-John Entwhistle Who record would sound like. Surely someone as smart as Pete Townshend could age gracefully in music. Nevermind. Half-baked concept album about something I don’t care about.

Peter Gabriel: I don’t know, anything post-1992? Let’s go with OVO, his misbegotten soundtrack for the Millenium Dome Show in London. Bland songwriting, bland production, annoying guest artists. To quote Donald Trump, a disaster.

Dire Straits: On Every Street. Wonderful title track aside, it is no wonder Mark Knopfler ended it after this record. Pressure of following up something like Brothers In Arms was too much, or more likely, Knopfler doesn’t seem like an artist comfortable at that level. I think it all got too big.

Van Morrison: anything from the mid-1990’s on. Even into the 1980’s, Van Morrison was making challenging, vital music with depth (if you haven’t, it is worthwhile to delve into Van’s 80’s material). I chose to list Van here, because take your pick, record after record of cruise control, non-descript, mid-tempo R&B influenced product. Somewhere Morrison ceased to be an artist and became just an entertainer. Other artists who completely had me but took a turn like Morrison: Sting post-Soul Cages, U2 post-Zooropa and ZZ Top post-Afterburner.

What about you? Records you love by artists you otherwise dislike, or records you hate by artists you otherwise love?

Friday, September 2, 2016

RIP Gene Wilder, 1933-2016

I haven’t thought about Gene Wilder in a long time. In part because he has been out of the public eye for quite awhile. The last movie he was in came out in 1991. He belongs to a different time. But when I heard about his death (as 2016 continues to be The Year of Celebrity Deaths), the memories of his greatest performances brought a big smile to my face and a chuckle. That is what he seemed to be about, bringing laughs and smiles to people in tough times (his best films came out in the 1970’s).

One of the more unique things about his performances for me was that he was able to present characters that have a bland, surface normalcy but just under the surface is an unstable volcano that will occasionally erupt onscreen, and he was never afraid to take it there when need be. Willy Wonka may be his most memorable role, and as sweet as he is in the film, there is still something a bit sinister too, just under the surface. I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving my kids with him on a tour of his factory.

But for me, his greatest role is Victor Frankenstein in Mel Brooks’ 1974 classic Young Frankenstein. Most of Brooks’ films I find irritating (although Blazing Saddles is great in spots, featuring another iconic Wilder role), but YF hits all the right notes and tone and is both a loving homage to the classic era of Universal Horror films and also a masterful comedy. Wilder co-wrote the script. His performance is a master class in comedic acting. How he so desperately wants to be taken seriously and escape the “Frankenstein” name, then gets pulled into his grandfather’s work and legacy. His performance moves across the entire spectrum, from subtle, wry humor to raging, manic tantrums. So many scenes (the spinning bookcase – “put the candle back!”) have entered the collective comedy consciousness of a generation of moviegoers.

RIP Gene Wilder

Thursday, August 25, 2016

It Is OK To Change Your Mind

Interesting op-ed piece from a former climate change skeptic and meteorologist. What I like about it is that he tries to de-politicize the issue as much as he can and stick to science. It is here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Opportunity Lost

This is what I've been saying for years, especially in relation to the Hispanic vote. It is one of many tragedies of the Trump nomination for true conservatives. Great article. Here is the link.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Were you guys talking about this?

Rick Wakeman, "Guinevere" (Wembley, 1975)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Three Records I'm Supposed To Love But Don't (and Three I'm Not Supposed To Love But Do)

As an avid maker and reader of lists, I have become quite familiar with the consensus critical (and fan) picks for the greatest albums of all time. I agree with many of the choices. But there are three records that are considered to be amongst the greatest in rock/pop history that I have never warmed to. I’ve tried. I won’t argue against their importance or influence, but I’m just talking about my personal loves and dislikes, and I just can’t subjectively say that I love these records. Even though I’m supposed to.

1. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966). I can appreciate the genius of Brian Wilson, but sometimes I feel a little like cranky Mike Love when I say that perhaps it is sometimes, just maybe, a little overstated. Now there is one song on this record that I do love. In fact, I agree with Paul McCartney when he said that “God Only Knows” may be the most beautiful pop song ever written. But I can’t get into the rest of this record. I know it is Exhibit A of 60’s studio genius, pushing The Beatles to new heights (leading them eventually to Number 2, below). But as much as I try, I still hear the trite, sunny Beach Boys clichés. It remains in the shallows and never goes to the deep blue ocean for me.

2. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). You read the contemporary reviews and commentary, and this record was going to alter the very face of music itself, bring eternal world peace and cure cancer. Well, it did none of those things. In more recent critical assessments, it has become popular to put a few Beatles records above this one, but nobody really disparages it. This is one of my least favorite Beatles albums, only superior to the consensus bottom of the Beatles barrel (Yellow Submarine, etc.) Even John Lennon later dismissed many of these songs as lightweight. I agree with him. Sure, “A Day in the Life” is truly brilliant, I dig the title track, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is cool. But most of the rest comes off to me as experimentation for the sake of experimentation, and trying way too hard to sound whimsical. And we get another tedious George Harrison Indian music piece (“Within You Without You”). Don’t get me wrong, I do love me some Harrison, but only when he is sans sitar.

3. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991). I remember taking a road trip with a girlfriend when this was just hitting. She was gushing over it, I dismissed it as a “flash in the pan” and derivative. OK, I was wrong. But I still don’t really dig it at all. I understand how, after the plastic 80’s (and I love the plastic 80’s, which perhaps is my problem), this was a breath of fresh, authentic, rock and roll air. I get it. But I don’t get Kurt Cobain’s alleged genius. Somebody please explain it to me.

I figure I should now flip this. Here are three records that are critically disliked or dismissed, yet I love them…

1. The Rolling Stones – Undercover (1983). I will defend this record all day (and night) long. Generally considered one of their worst (esteemed critic Charles Christgau, in fact, considers it their worst record. Yet he loves Dirty Work, which actually was their worst record). Christgau and others attack this record as mean, brutish, and violent. To which I answer, “and the problem is?” I mean, this is the Rolling Stones. Keith and Mick’s relationship was nearing its nadir (one more record and both would embark on solo careers for awhile, and they were already sniping in the press), and this was one of the few records that they never toured for. All that tension comes out in the music, though. “Undercover of the Night” is one of their greatest singles, in my opinion. Harnessing the same modern energy as “Miss You” yet remaining Stones. “Too Much Blood,” “Pretty Beat Up,” “It Must Be Hell” all seethe with anger and aggression. And Mick’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre spoken interlude in “Too Much Blood” is really funny.

2. Bryan Adams – Reckless (1984). Not that this record is considered bad, but it is generally dismissed as middle of the road, glossy 80's, non-edgy pop/rock and not taken that seriously. And maybe it is all of that. But it is also one of my favorite records of that entire decade. It is nothing more than pop/rock, but masterfully crafted pop/rock. It is all inviting rhythm guitars, soaring pop hook choruses. “Run To You,” “One Night Love Affair,” “Somebody,” kick ass duet with Tina Turner “It’s Only Love,” even cheeseball power ballad “Heaven” and silly nostalgic “Summer of ‘69”…I dig it all. So this is not so much a record that I am supposed to hate (although in many serious music fan circles I would be expected to), but it is more one that I am not supposed to like nearly as much as I do.

3. Thomas Dolby – The Golden Age of Wireless (1982). Similar to The Bryan Adams case, where this record is not considered bad, but for many it is probably seen as an 80’s novelty (as it contains his one big hit, “She Blinded Me With Science,” and is filled with other science/technologically themed tunes). Although, amongst listeners who really like 80’s synth-pop, it is a very respected record. Anyway, as with the selection above, I love this record way more than I’m supposed to. I think Dolby is incredibly talented. If he had stayed the course with this debut (and the even better sophomore effort, The Flat Earth), he would have a large, impressive catalogue. But after those two records, the discography becomes spotty (although I highly recommend the live, solo performance CD The Sole Inhabitant, that is excellent). At least here and on Flat Earth, Dolby is an underrated songwriter, crafting smart, catchy, complex, witty synthpop that was perfect for his time, and if you like that style, stands the test of time. Everyone knows the hit, but check out the so great Cold War tune “One of Our Submarines.” (NOTE: get the U.S. version of the album, it is much better than the UK version).

Monday, June 6, 2016

RIP Joe Jett, 1939-2016

There are certain people in your life that you respect, love, look up to more than others. For me, my own father is number one, just based on what he accomplished considering where he came from, what he provided for me and my family, etc. But my uncle was a close second. Especially when I was young, my father and my uncle (they were in-laws, not brothers) provided a great yin and yang for me to combine the best qualities of both and get a pretty good model for respectable manhood. As I have grown older, I have come to recognize weaknesses in both men (just as I have recognized weaknesses in myself), but when you are younger you don’t see the weaknesses as much. You just see the greatness, the model of what kind of man you want to become. And that is probably as it should be, because when you are young you want/need clear, uncomplicated models to aspire to. There is plenty of time for complexity and nuance later in life.

My father and my uncle were very different men in many respects, which is why together they provided me with such a complete picture to pull from. Whereas my Dad was an athlete (even played minor league baseball), my uncle was an outdoorsman. There is a difference. (I chuckle at the prospect of handing my father a tent and camping supplies and sending him off into the woods). I was never an athlete, so my father and I never bonded over sports as he did with my older siblings, but I do enjoy the outdoors a great deal. Some of my more vivid childhood memories are of a couple of weekends where I stayed with my uncle and aunt up at Lake Conroe, and he’d wake me up before the sun was up and take me fishing out on the lake (well, usually just the marina, but it was still cool). Or the time he took me for a ride around the Woodlands area north of Houston on the back of his motorcycle. (Again, my Dad on a motorcycle? Ha!) So, it was cool growing up getting experiences with my uncle that I otherwise would not have gotten.

About a decade ago or more, I decided to conduct, record and transcribe some family interviews. I did my mother, father and uncle (I regret not interviewing my mother’s sister before her death, that would have been a fascinating interview. I remember I asked her, and she tentatively agreed, but then we never got to it). My uncle’s interview was especially fun, as he had a tendency to ramble off on tangents and alleyways of memory, or he’d be telling a story of his youth and then if the weather was a factor in the story he would veer off and give you theories of weather patterns in Southeast Texas and never return to the original story. Anyway, it is a fun read and really does preserve what a conversation with my uncle was like. All of the interviews were great, but where my mother was a bit guarded, my dad was conversational on many topics but also didn’t really want to delve too much into some areas, my uncle’s interview was wide open. I remember when we started, he told me the only topic he did not want to discuss was the death of his oldest son. My cousin died in his teens from leukemia. Of course, once he got talking he spoke of my cousin at length, including his death. Reading it now, I think that out of all of the interviews I conducted, his is the most authentic. The most like really just sitting down with him and shooting the sh*t, but also getting his story down.

Two recent memories I will keep with me. Back in the fall of last year, a family member died and so I drove into Houston to attend her funeral. I went to my uncle’s house and we went to the service together. Fortunately, I came in early, so we had some time to hang out at his place. In hindsight, this was only a couple months before he got sick. What a great afternoon. He warmed some bar-b-q in the oven, and we sat down and talked. He showed me his guitars and let me play an especially nice Gibson for which he had rebuilt the neck (he left me that guitar, by the way, which makes me happy beyond words). We left his house early, so he drove me around parts of Houston I’ve never explored, even though I grew up there. He drove me by the house where he, my mother, and my aunt grew up. He told me stories of growing up on that street, who had lived in other houses on that same street. It was a perfect time capsule moment, Houston of another era.

And then there was about a month ago. The extended family was informed by our cousins that my uncle was in pretty bad shape. Cancer and other complications. He was in a “recovery center.” I discussed with my cousin visiting him, and my cousin thought that would be good. I showed up and he was dozing off, but woke up and asked who was there. He was quite shocked to see me, apparently my cousin had not told him I was coming. At the time I was a little irritated that my cousin hadn’t mentioned me coming, I felt uncomfortable surprising him like that, but in hindsight I think it was on purpose. Later, my mother and sister were planning a visit, and my uncle talked them out of coming. My cousin probably knew he’d do the same with me, which is probably why he gave me all of the info I needed to see him, yet did not tell him I was coming. Thanks, Sam, I will be forever grateful.

We spent one hour together. He was indeed in terrible shape. My uncle had smoked heavily most of his life. He had quit smoking five or six years ago, but the damage was already done. One of the first things he said was “well, the smoking finally got me.” He had lost a lot of weight (my cousin said he weighed less than 100 pounds when he died). His cough sounded horrible. But, we talked, we visited, we were just together for an hour. He, of course, reminisced about the old days, like he always did. We talked about family, both gone and still around.

While I was there a Catholic deacon (layperson) came by to give my uncle communion. Having recently come to serious faith myself, I was pleased to see that after many decades, my uncle’s lapsed, dormant Catholicism was again active. I guess nearing your end does that. There was a funny exchange, where I was asked if I wanted to also take communion, but once I revealed that I was Lutheran, both the deacon and I agreed I should sit on the sidelines and pray with them, but not take communion. Catholics and Lutherans don’t do sacraments together (after all, we were the original rebels in the Reformation). Typically, right in the middle of this solemn sacrament, my uncle’s curiosity was piqued and he started asking me about Lutheranism, and how it differs from Catholicism, and then he talked about how he recently did confession for the first time in about 40 years and how it took a long time to discuss all of his sins…but anyway, it was a beautiful thing to watch him take some comfort in God’s Grace and the sacraments of his youth so ingrained into his being. After the actual sacrament, I did come over, hold hands with my uncle, and the three of us recited the Lord’s Prayer together. That was special, it was an emotional moment for us both, I actually saw him tear up. I had never prayed with him before.

One other thing struck me. When I first walked in, he was asleep but he had headphones on and a portable DVD player in his lap. My uncle loved movies, he would always talk about recent films he had seen. There was something, I can’t put my finger on it and I don’t know how to describe it. But something incredibly sad about the condition he was in at this point (and let’s be honest, this could be my or your end as well), to where the smallest things become life preservers. He was holding tightly to his DVD player and this little bin filled with DVDs like these were saving his life, like they were the last sustenance on earth. It was not unlike a frightened child clinging to a stuffed animal or blankie in the dark night. I mean, he was clutching them tightly. And at that point, they probably were his most important possession. A way to be transported away from his pain and, well, dying. He talked excitedly about a particular movie he was watching before I had walked in and before he had dozed off. Gave me the plot points, the actors. It made such an impression on me, just how important that little thing, a DVD player and some movies, were to him at that point.

I could tell he was getting tired, so we said goodbye. I knew that was probably the last time I would ever see him. We embraced for a long while, told each other that we loved one another. And that was it.

So, godspeed Uncle Joe on your new journey. We will miss you.

RIP Uncle Joe

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This Is Bullsh*t

Last night I posted about a new Tragically Hip record coming out. A band I have loyally followed for decades. I read today that Gord Downie, the lead singer and guiding force, has terminal brain cancer. They plan on touring this summer anyway. See 'em while you can. I have vivid memories of a small club show by the Hip I saw circa 1990-91. Not to be missed. Looking forward to the record even more now. Although, don't look for a Bowie-like goodbye on this one. The record was written and recorded prior to his diagnosis. This is actually big news in Canada. The Hip are still a huge band there. His doctor held a press conference to discuss the diagnosis. Apparently the mean lifespan for people after diagnosis with this type of brain cancer is about 2 years. Downie claims that he plans to keep making music. Should interesting stuff.

Monday, May 23, 2016

New Hip

One of the only bands that still gets me excited about a coming release is Canada's own Tragically Hip. They've been putting out great stuff for over 25 years now. Granted, their records are often hit and miss (the only perfect one from start to finish is Road Apples), but when they hit, they can still hit me hard. It is difficult to explain these things, where a certain band has a certain sound or turn of melody or style or chords they use that just hits your emotional sweet spot. I like the new song "In a World Possessed By the Human Mind," from Man Machine Poem, out in mid-June. Here's the video, I like the mood it creates quite a bit. But perhaps that's because I'm listening and watching late tonight while the wife is out of town and the kids are long asleep...it's like getting a phone call from an old friend...thank God for the Hip.

Fun question for those reading: what bands/artists still putting out new material hit that sweet spot for you? Not every song, but consistently enough to where you are still excited when you hear of a new release on the horizon. this is especially an interesting question for those 40 or over, since I think it is harder for anything new to emotionally penetrate us like it used to.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

There Aren't Enough of Us

I have held off from discussing the election here at GNABB. Too many musical obituaries to do. But I have been following it very closely. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to write anything, though. Partly because I have so many thoughts and feelings about it, I haven’t had the energy to sit down and sort them out. But here goes…

Trump vs. Hillary. An historical election, in part because we have never had the two major candidates both have such high negative polling. Polls indicate that over 50% of Americans dislike them both, so…???? Anyway, they are our candidates. No amount of wishing them away will change that.

As someone who generally leans middle/right, the Trump phenomenon/fiasco has been especially interesting/infuriating. I was onboard the Never Trump train early on, but at the same time I always held out a little hope that he could convince me otherwise. That he would fulfill his promise that the primary season was just an act, a carnival sideshow, and that he would magically become “presidential” when it mattered.

Trump: “I’ll be so presidential it’ll make your head spin.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan just handed Trump an opportunity to be exactly that, presidential. In an unprecedented move, the Speaker of the House refused to endorse the presidential candidate of his own party. Or at least, said he was “not ready” to do so. Trump could have taken up the challenge, said something like “Speaker Ryan is correct, I need to bring this party together and I am determined to do just that. I invite Speaker Ryan and other party leaders to meet with me and we can come together and discuss a host of issues, and then together we can lead this party to victory in November.” But it just isn’t in his DNA to collaborate. Instead, Trump responds in the only way he knows how, confrontationally. He said that he wasn’t ready to support Ryan’s agenda. So there, the trenches on the battlefield are dug.

Trump just doesn’t care. The very idea of a political party has very little use to him unless it is simply an apparatus to get him what he personally wants. Paul Ryan was talking about the great responsibility to live up to the best of the GOP legacy, to live up to the principles and leadership of Lincoln and Reagan. To Trump that hardly registers, and that is one of the many problems here.

What is Ryan doing? Is he giving cover to vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in Congress this year, so they can also distance themselves from a Trump scorched-earth candidacy? Is he trying to preserve true conservativism (which is a religion to Ryan, and a matter of convenience to Trump), where Ryan and others might actually be willing to throw this election in order to preserve the Republican Party for the long run? All are possibilities.

Paul Ryan: Losing the battle on purpose to win the war?

The greatest damage that Trump has done to the Republican cause is demographically. By 2050, many experts believe that the United States will be “majority-minority,” meaning that there will be no ethnic group that is a majority in this country. The fastest growing demographic is Hispanic. During the 1990’s, the Hispanic population passed up the African-American. I have argued for years that in many ways, the Hispanic population and the GOP are a good fit (social issues, economically). It is a matter of messaging and perhaps some movement on a few issues. The Republican establishment, like Paul Ryan, had realized this and were trying to work on this long term issue. Trump has blown that effort out of the water (tweeting a picture of The Donald enjoying a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo saying “I love Hispanics!,” notwithstanding).

ABOVE: Apparently, all you have to do is eat a taco bowl and proclaim "I love Hispanics!" on Cinco de Mayo, and all will be forgiven

If the Republican Party does not figure out a long term plan to expand its base, it will become a party perpetually in the wilderness. So Trump calls Hispanic immigrants rapists, he calls for a blanket ban on Muslim immigration, and shows an anachronistic, dismissive attitude towards roughly half of our population (women). As a father of two daughters, I would punch someone in the face if they spoke to one of them in the way that Trump has addressed women in public. For that reason alone, it is hard to stomach supporting him and having him be an example to my girls. Trump has managed to alienate most anyone who is not non-Hispanic white from the Republican cause. Perhaps Paul Ryan and others see the long game, and the need to sacrifice this election.

What explains Trump’s popularity (beyond just obvious bigots, because there are a lot more people than that supporting him)? As has been much discussed in the media, it is the same anger fueling Bernie Sanders’ movement on the other side. People fed up with comfortable establishment figures who maintain their power while things seem to be getting more unstable and out of control internationally, and at least stagnating domestically. People want change. But The Bern’s socialism and Trump’s demagoguery and narcissism are not the answers.

Trump has tapped into a fear and frustration that has been there for awhile amongst working class whites. Which is one reason he still could win this thing. Frankly, there are quite a few northern, working class whites who normally vote Democrat who are flocking to Trump (what we called in the 80’s “Reagan Democrats.”) Can they make up for the Never Trump Republicans? Maybe. Add to that Hillary is a very weak and vulnerable candidate who has serious issues of her own.

I can’t support Trump for several reasons. His wall and his plan to round up millions of illegal immigrants and send them back are absurd (but “the good ones” can come right back. How does he know who is “good”? Will he interview them all personally? Can you just see the Gestapo-like images of people being rounded up, separated from family members and shipped back to foreign lands?) So what is his point? Is he just that cynical, stirring up nativist sentiments, knowing he can’t really deliver? Or does he really think he can do these things? Either way, it is ridiculous and dangerous.

Even worse is his foreign policy. He casually talks of dismantling NATO, of promoting nuclear proliferation in Asia…he discusses reversing American foreign policy that has been in place since the end World War II with as much thought as you or I would dedicate to ordering take-out. I swear, it looks like he says these things the moment they pop into his head. His Middle Eastern policy? Which Trump do you believe? We should pull out and let them fight out their own problems? Give the Russians a free hand to do with Syria what they see fit? Go carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion? It seems to change with each week that passes. Again, whatever pops into his head at the moment. One thing that he said is true. The U.S. would be “unpredictable” under a Trump administration. The problem with that is that for close to a century, global stability has depended on a predictable American foreign policy. Our allies depend on it, and our enemies are kept in check by it. Trump: “I’ll make great deals.” Meaning everything is now negotiable? The majority of conservative foreign policy experts agree that Trump’s foreign policy would be a disaster. Not everyone has such dire feelings about it, though. Vladimir Putin is a noted Trump fan.

So no, I can’t vote for the Donald. Country over party. And actually, not voting for Donald, in the long run, is probably best for the party too. Perhaps the Republicans will need to go into the wilderness for awhile and reinvent themselves. Like after The New Deal, and it required a Barry Goldwater to plant the seeds that only came to fruition 15 years later with Reagan (or as I describe him to my students,

“Goldwater with a personality”). It might take more years of horrendous policies like Obama’s to finally convince Americans that another way is necessary. But it is not Trump’s way.

There are just not enough of us out there right now. Reasonable, thoughtful, Libertarian-leaning conservatives who are concerned about the deficit and debt and fiscal future of this country. Who recognize that the American character and work ethic is worth preserving, at least the best aspects of it. Who understand that America has a leadership role to play in the world that needs to be predictable and steadfast for our allies (which Trump doesn’t seem to understand), and that also must project strength and be able to strike a certain fear in the hearts of those who would oppose us or try to do the world harm (Obama doesn’t seem to understand, or at least agree with, this part). Reasonable conservatives who understand that we need to cut government spending, reform entitlements (including the difficult ones like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), but also that not all taxes are automatically bad. Republican icon Ronald Reagan understood this. He once said that if you get 80% of what you want, then that is a success. He understood that you had to work with the opposition, that it did no good to demonize your domestic political opponents.

We have ourselves (on the Right) to blame for Trump. It started with talk radio, I think. I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio on my drives to and from work. And I agree with much of what they say. Many critics of the genre haven’t actually listened to much of it, and it provided an outlet for a point of view that had been blocked out of the mainstream media. But they hold on to and expand their listenership through demonizing the Left, there is no doubt. Most every issue that comes up is proof that Obama and others are out to destroy America. Not that they have different opinions on solutions, but that they just hate America. Ratings equal stirring up anger and resentment. Some are more reasonable than others (I loved Bill Bennett when he was on, I enjoy and respect Dennis Prager and Michael Medved quite a bit, not coincidently two who have come out and said that Trump is wrong for this country), but then you also have the Michael Savage’s of the airwaves. It is an industry built on resentment and intransience, on the belief that if you compromise with the Left then you are a traitor. Reagan, in this environment, would have been excoriated. Talk radio created the Tea Party. Tea Party resentment paved the way for Trump.

ABOVE: With these people becoming a vocal part of Republican politics, was Trump far behind?

The funny thing is, Trump is not even a conservative. And he will actually run to the left of Hillary on some issues. But this pitchfork and torches contingent of the Right is so angry and emboldened now, they don’t even notice that Trump is a carnival barker opportunist who will bend and change with the populist tides and his own whim on any given day. Add to that the Reagan Democrats that he has courted. Trump has no core ideology at all.

So, what to do? Hillary is not a good candidate, nor an honest leader. I think at heart Hillary is pretty moderate. Bernie has pushed her left. Can she tack back center once the children (Bernie supporters) are put to bed and the adults in the Democrat household take control again? I don’t know. But she is not dangerous like Trump is. At least not in the same way he is. I could see Trump doing damage that will be much harder to repair than Hillary. I either vote for her or I don’t vote, I guess. Or cast a 3rd party protest vote if the Never Trump crowd can get something together.

Ryan/Rubio ’20.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

RIP Prince, 1958-2016

I'm sure a lot of you have seen this, but this has to be the greatest performance at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Prince and George Harrison (as a solo artist) were inducted in the same year, and this is one of those All Star jams during the ceremony. Harrison was already dead by his induction, so this is a tribute performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Many of the usual suspects are there, like Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, etc. It is a nice but unremarkable performance until about 3:30, when Prince tears into his guitar solo. On a totally different plane of existence from these other guys. And you can tell he knows it. He isn't usually associated with classic rock, but it is like he is saying, "if I feel like it, I can do this better than any of you." He is having so much fun. Notice the look of surprise and awe on Dhani Harrison's face at about 4:48 (Dhani is George's son, can't you tell?) The best part may be the end. He tosses the guitar to the heavens (where the hell does it go??) and struts off the stage while the other guys are still on the last chord. Like "yeah, bitches!" I read an interview with Dhani Harrison that was great, talking about this performance. Harrison said that he wasn't too excited about Prince performing on the song, he just wasn't that familiar with his music beyond hits like "Kiss," and didn't think he would fit in musically. These other guys had been friends of his Dad's, Dhani had grown up knowing them, etc. Also, at rehearsal Prince didn't show his cards, he played a rather routine solo. Harrison said that he ran around frantically backstage looking for Prince after the performance, shouting wildly "where's Prince! Where's Prince!" Apparently when Prince strutted off the stage, he never stopped and just walked out of the building into the night without saying a word to anyone.

Friday, February 19, 2016

RIP Scalia, 1936-2016

Couldn't you have hung on until next January? That would have been much better. None of us get to choose the time of our departure, I guess. My wife and I were at a yoga class (the second one I have ever attended - the things we do to please our spouse for Valentine's Day), and just before we started I glanced at my phone and saw that Antonin Scalia had died. I have to admit I was rocked pretty hard by this one.

For one, Scalia made law school bearable. Whether you agreed with him or not (and I often did), his decisions were a joy to read. You don't hear that much when referring to the writing in Supreme Court decisions. But Scalia possessed both a razor mind and a razor pen. And he was by far the most powerful Justice on the Supreme Court for decades, because Scalia got two votes whereas the other Justices just got one vote. (I am, of course, referring to Clarence Thomas, who almost always voted with Scalia and would often just sign on to Scalia's decisions vs. writing his own).

ABOVE: What is Clarence "yeah, what he said" Thomas going to do now that Scalia is gone? Think for himself?

On a more serious note, I'm not sure what to think of the Republican Senate standoff with Obama on appointing Scalia's replacement. This rhetoric of "let the people decide" (as in, wait until after the election so the people can weigh in on the direction of the replacement) is crap. That is not in the Constitution, as Scalia himself would probably point out. And the people did weigh in. Obama was re-elected.

I think what should happen is that Obama fulfills his Constitutional duty and nominates someone, and the Republicans in the Senate give him or her their due hearing and then most likely vote them down. Drag it out until the election, and then let the next president pick someone. That seems better than refusing to even hold a hearing without even having a nominee yet. At least go through the motions. This holdout could be worse for the Republicans in an election year than just having some contentious hearings and then voting "no."

Do I think the Democrats would do the same thing if it were reversed? Of course. In fact, both Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid have statements exactly to that effect from back in the waning days of George W. Bush's presidency. I wouldn't agree with them doing it either (and you know if this were the democrats doing this, talk radio-world would be raising a sh*tstorm about the dems circumventing the Constitution, etc.)

Our Founders certainly intended for the president to nominate someone and then for the Senate to advise the president on that nominee and then consent or not. I don't think they meant "advise and consent" to mean "No. It doesn't matter who you nominate. We'll just leave the seat vacant for a year."

Anyway, Scalia was quite simply one of the greatest minds we have ever had on the Court. A giant. I leave you with the ever quotable Antonin Scalia...

“Never compromise your principles, unless of course your principles are Adolf Hitler’s, in which case you would be well advised to compromise them as much as you can.”

“More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly.”

“A Constitution is not meant to facilitate change. It is meant to impede change, to make it difficult to change.”

“This Court, however, concludes that this limitation would prevent the rest of the Act from working as well as hoped. So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere. We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”

“A man who has made no enemies is probably not a very good man.”

"A Bill of Rights that means what the majority wants it to mean is worthless."

"That’s the argument of flexibility and it goes something like this: The Constitution is over 200 years old and societies change. It has to change with society, like a living organism, or it will become brittle and break. But you would have to be an idiot to believe that. The Constitution is not a living organism, it is a legal document. It says something and doesn’t say other things."

"You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the devil! Most of mankind has believed in the devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the devil."

"To pursue the concept of racial entitlement–even for the most admirable and benign of purposes–is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred. In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American."

"Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct."

"Bear in mind that brains and learning, like muscle and physical skill, are articles of commerce. They are bought and sold. You can hire them by the year or by the hour. The only thing in the world not for sale is character."

"God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."

"If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

RIP David Bowie, 1947-2016 and a Review of 'Blackstar,' 2016

David Bowie managed to turn even his death into an artistic act. He last toured in 2003, when he had to cut the Reality tour short due to health issues. He subsequently disappeared from the music scene until 2012’s surprise release of a new record. That record (The Next Day) was good, but not great. Critics and fans were just happy that he was making music again. January 8th of this year he released what we now know was his final record, the daring Blackstar. Bowie then died two days later. He had kept his 18 month struggle with liver cancer a secret from the public (and even many of his close associaties, apparently), so the excitement of a new Bowie record was followed by shock, as most fans like myself were looking forward to yet another career renaissance. He knew that this would be his last record, so a close listen to the lyrics and themes take on new importance with Blackstar. It seems rare (I can’t think of any parallels) that a musical artist gets to make a record knowing that this is his last chance to say what he wants to say. It is probably even rarer that it is done so successfully and so gracefully.

I probably don’t need to write the standard obituary for David Bowie here, as most of you know the important touchstones. If I had a dollar for every time he was called a “chameleon” in a review or article, I would have no need to buy any Powerball tickets. But, the name fits. Bowie was on the vanguard of many different musical trends in his almost five decades in music (I think the mid-80’s through the 90’s was probably the only period where he was more a follower of trends than leader, although even then he still made some worthwhile music). For many artists, Bowie was more influential on them than The Beatles. Duran Duran said that was the case for them.

Bowie is one of the few artists where you can become obsessed with various periods of his career. Most artists would be lucky to have an entire career worthy of fan obsession, but you can dive into Bowie’s glam period, or his Berlin Trilogy, or his pop excursions, or his work in electronic music…and be rewarded just focusing on one of those periods.

Something else rare was that through the vast majority of his career (maybe except for the late 80’s), Bowie was always cool. You never had to apologize for being a Bowie fan. Even when he was in his 50’s, he was making music that younger generations of musicians and fans were following. He knew how to manage his image masterfully. He even knew when (and how) to disappear.

I got onboard with 1983’s Let’s Dance. Blame my age, it was when I was becoming aware of pop music. I still love that record, although by many it is seen as one of his more uncool, least experimental efforts. The five core songs on it (title track, “Modern Love,” “China Girl,” “Cat People,” and “Criminal World”) still stand up as fantastic, varied pop/rock songs in my book. (Also fun that a very out of place Stevie Ray Vaughan plays on them). It was Bowie's commercial peak, which may explain the lack of critical fawning for the album. But the same guy who made Let’s Dance made 1977’s krautrock-loving experimental masterpiece Low? Or the glam touchstone The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars? Or quirky folk of Hunky Dory? Or the plastic soul of Young Americans? Or the electronic-drenched Earthling? Yep. Same guy. Or how about releasing Low and ‘Heroes,’ two unquestionable masterpieces, in the same freaking year?!

And with Bowie it was never clear how much of it was sincere or how much of it was a put-on. “It” being whatever genre he happened to be creating or revolutionizing or diving into at the time. To some that has been a turn-off. But I think a certain distance Bowie kept from whatever world he was exploring also allowed him to quickly move on to other exciting musical planets without lingering for too long in one place.

My favorite period? Probably the Berlin Trilogy (especially if you can extend it to the one record previous and the one right after to make it five records: Station to Station, Low, ‘Heroes,’ Lodger, and Scary Monsters).

Anyway, I could go on about remembering Bowie, but I want to talk about his final record, Blackstar. I loved it when I heard it on the day it was released. But his death makes it more significant than just the next Bowie record. It is the last Bowie record. (Although I have no doubt the vaults will be raided for some posthumous releases).

He put together a new band for this last record. Mostly they were young jazz players, and Donny McCaslin’s exciting saxophone playing is all over it. It is a return to his more experimental tendencies, doggedly uncommercial (the title track was released as the first single, and it is ten minutes long, a complex labyrinth of sounds that still holds together, but obviously much too complex and lengthy for radio). Longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti stated that the band were unaware of Bowie’s declining health as they were recording, but that Bowie always intended this record to be his swansong, his “parting gift” to his fans. What a rich gift it is. Knowing it to be his last, he had no reason to compromise at all for commercial considerations. No tour to plan. No follow-up to set up or work on. This was it. Some might fold under that type of pressure (how do you cap off a career spanning four decades? While knowing you are dying while doing it?) But it is also liberating, I imagine.

ABOVE: Check out Bowie's fascinating video for the title track to his new record, "Blackstar"

These lyrics, while typically not exactly straightfoward, contemplate his mortality, saying goodbye and his legacy. The gorgeous Cure-like dirge “Lazarus”: “Look up here, I’m in heaven / Got scars that can’t be seen / I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen / Everybody knows me now” and “just like that bluebird / oh, I’ll be free / Ain’t that just like me.” Or from “Dollar Days”: “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to / It’s nothing to me” and “Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you / I’m trying to, I’m dying to” (or is it “too”?) What a lovely goodbye the final two tracks are, where “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” segue together. Both are lush, flowing ballads, and the repeated refrain of the last song – “I can’t give everything / I can’t give everything / Away” – could stand as the epitaph for his entire career. Bowie produced thrilling, daring, yet still accessible music, but there was always a bit of mystery, a bit of the opaque. As much as he gave to his music and fans, he still held something back. That for some reason made it even more intriguing. By the way, that is not to say that it is all moody. "Sue (or a Season of Crime)" and "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" rock out a bit.

As a final gift, a final artistic statement where he incorporated his own death into the work (and it must be added that the final two videos for "Blackstar" and "Lazarus" are essential for the entire package as well)…I can’t think of a more enigmatic yet satisfying, from an artistic perspective, way to bow out. I read a great article recently on Bowie’s passing where the author said, only slightly tongue in cheek and I’m paraphrasing, “I can say that the human race was fortunate to share the planet at the same time that Bowie was here.” RIP David Bowie.

Blackstar: **** out of *****