Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Carter Back Home

After three long days in the hospital, our dog Carter is finally back on his home turf again – a little wobbly from all the meds, but clearly enthusiastic to be back with his humans. Many thanks to all who sent their best wishes for his speedy recovery.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Krugman JGRTWT

What Paul Krugman sez: "inventing reasons not to put the unemployed back to work is neither wise nor responsible. It is, instead, a grotesque abdication of responsibility."

Now go!

Monday Random Ten #11

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/Song/Album:

1. Ol' Yeller/In God's Country/Country

2. Steely Dan/Deacon Blues/A Decade of Steely Dan

3. White House Blues/Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers/Anthology of American Folk Music - vol. 1B: Ballads

4. Fish Karma/I Ain't Man Enough to Take Your Girl/The Theory of Intelligent Design

5. Dar Williams/The One Who Knows/The Beauty of the Rain

6. Elvis Costello & the Imposters feat. Lucinda Williams/There's a Story in Your Voice/The Delivery Man

7. The Gaslight Anthem/Great Expectations/The '59 Sound

8. Ebeneezer Obey & his International Brothers/Ibadan/In London

9. Macy Gray/Slap a Bitch/Slap a Bitch (single)

10. Johnny Adams/I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home/The Great Johnny Adams

Nice country/rock cover of the U2 tune from Ol' Yeller, a country band from Minneapolis. Listen to streams at their MySpace page.

The Anthology needs no introduction. Poole, who died in 1931, is the subject of a tribute album by Loudon Wainwright III and an annual music festival in his native NC.

Tucson's own Fish Karma has eight hilarious albums under his belt; this one's from 2006. He too has a MySpace page and  you can try a video over here.

That Macy Gray single is salacious enough to make Tipper Gore want to protect her daughters.

The Gaslight Anthem are the next great New Jersey band; they should name an offramp after them.

His full name is Ebenezer Remilekun Aremu Olasupo Obey-Fabiyi, nicknamed the Chief Commander. Obey has been a working musician in Nigeria since the 1950s. Wikipedia has a partial discography. The track is from 1969, this video is from the same album.

Johnny Adams (1932-1998) was not the most famous singer ever to emerge from New Orleans, but surely one of the finest.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Carter Update

Just got word from the vet that Carter's surgery was successful and that he's healing nicely, if still a bit wobbly. As long as there are no complications overnight, he should be able to come home tomorrow morning. Many thanks for all your good wishes and prayers; it means the world. Woof!

Amnesty Turns Fifty

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the founding of Amnesty International. The organization began on May 28, 1961, and has an impressive record of success in promoting human rights across the globe. (I meant to post about this yesterday, but I was otherwise engaged.)

I remember donating with pride to Amnesty when I was just a teenager. Today their front page spotlights matters we've discussed on this blog: the impending execution of Troy Davis, the conflict in the Ivory Coast, and the legacy of violence in the Balkans.

Their work is as vital and crucial as it ever was. Anything you can do to support them will help make the world a better place, and you can do so with pride.

Pit Bull From Hell

For Carter, it could have been worse. Others are not so lucky.
The monster burst through the wooden fence like it was made of paper, grabbed my dog by the neck and would not let go for what seemed like forever. I beat it over its thick skull with a hunk of wood, to no avail, while my terrified children screamed and scattered in panic. In the end, one neighbor ran over and attacked it with a rake until it finally relinquished its hold on my limp, unconscious pooch and fled loose into the neighborhood.

Other neighbors gave me a lift to my home a few blocks away and I drove back, scooped Carter into the back seat and got him to a 24-hour pet hospital, where he lies recovering at this hour.

Over the past five years, a pit bull has killed a human every three weeks. Last year there were 33 fatal dog attacks on humans, and pit bulls were responsible for two-thirds of them. Or rather, their owners were responsible. To own a dog that is bred to be a lethal weapon is no casual matter, though plenty of people treat it as such. As the Dog Bite Law Center puts it:
...the owners use them as tools of intimidation, or wield totally inadequate or no control over them, leading to bites, maulings and deaths in areas with enough social ills. Additionally a large subculture (recently exposured when NFL star quarterback Michael Vick was indicted for promoting dog fighting operations) has grown up around these dogs that enjoys the spectacle of dogs ripping each other apart. Fighting skill, power, cool, hipness of "Pits" are concepts that have engaged the popular imagination and led to the proliferation of Pit Bulls as pets in otherwise sane and healthy America.
Breeder Ed Frawley describes the responsibilities inherent in ownership of these breeds:
When properly raised, when pack structure has been established, when they have been obedience trained and socialized they are great family pets. Unfortunately there are many people in our society who ignore these very important responsibilities and the results are often catastrophic. 
Unfortunately many other [pit bulls] become rank dangerous animals mostly because their owners have never established pack structure with their dogs. 
This is a breed of dog that requires a solid foundation in pack structure. When irresponsible owners ignore pack behavior, rank drive issues and obedience training their dogs often become dangerous animals.
I have had countless neighbors over the years who treat their dogs like pieces of furniture, never giving them walks, training or proper care, leaving them in the yard to bark forlornly day and night. When you combine that with the desire to own one of these trendy breeds, for whatever motivation, the result is the kind of nightmare my family experienced last night.

We were among the lucky ones. Carter is going to recover, and none of us were attacked. Others are not so fortunate. Of last year's victims of fatal dog attacks, 60% were children - and three-quarters of those were under the age of four.

My kids will recover, too, and we spent a sweet half hour visiting Carter in the hospital this morning. But they have forever lost the illusion of living in a safe and benevolent world. Of course, we all lose that illusion – some gradually, and some more abruptly. But we all have the responsibility to keep our world from being any more dangerous and malevolent than it needs to be.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

1998: The Starr Report

Okay, I read every last word of the Starr Report, and watched the President weaseling his way through his Grand Jury testimony. I know most of you would rather have all your teeth pulled, but I just figure it's part of my job. Lucky me.

The Starr Report proposes eleven possible impeachment counts against the President (in contrast, Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski simply forwarded his evidence to Congress without comment). Most of them are tenuous at best. The perjury counts would be laughed out of court if the defendant were anyone other than the President. Clinton's oily lawyers are correct when they state that lying is not the same as perjury; Clinton is an oily lawyer himself, and while he's clearly lying, he seems to have largely avoided the perjury trap. And count eleven is even more ridiculous, charging that Clinton's "frivolous" litigation of executive privilege claims constitutes an abuse of power.

But I have bad news for Clinton partisans. Counts six and seven, on obstruction of justice, look to me like they have some teeth to them. Miss Lewinsky's account of this is far more credible than Mr. Clinton's, and if she is to believed, the two of them conspired to file a false affidavit and to withhold evidence which was under subpoena. I don't think the head of the Executive Branch should be allowed to get away with this kind of conduct. It may well warrant an impeachment inquiry - but at the same time, I don't think it warrants removal from office.

As Gerald Ford once famously remarked, an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House decides it to be at any given time. And if impeachment is an inherently political process, so too are the investigations of the President. There would have been no "justice" for him to obstruct without a well-funded network of right-wing wackos collaborating on endlessly digging up dirt on him. That's not to say that the Clinton Administration hasn't been full of odious ethical lapses - but those mostly concern policy.

For the attack dogs of the right who complain that this is the most corrupt administration in history, let's remember that over 400 members of the Reagan Administration were indicted or investigated. And while the first impeachment count against Richard Nixon charged him with lying to the American people, he was lying about attempts to subvert the Constitution - not about with whom he was making whoopee.

So let's put this in perspective. George Bush had a longtime mistress in the State Department. Ronald Reagan carried on for years, both as Governor and President, with a fetching ex-Nazi from Austria. Lyndon Johnson used to screw women on his desk in the Oval Office, never mind a side room (Harding preferred White House closets). After LBJ was caught once by Lady Bird, he had an alarm system installed so he'd know whenever she left the living quarters. Both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had their longtime extramarital partners, as did Ike. And never mind JFK. Hell, even Nixon was rumored to have made some sort of whoopee with a China lobbyist.

Does anybody doubt they would have lied to us about these affairs? Nixon would lie about things he didn't even need to, just to keep in practice. Ike lied to us about the U2 flight; JFK, about the Bay of Pigs; LBJ, about the Gulf of Tonkin. Reagan and Bush lied about their illegal wars, which left thousands of blood stains, not semen stains. Gerald Ford was a part of the biggest lie in our history, the Warren Commission Report. And Jimmy Carter lied when he said he'd never lie to us.

By now, the Republicans have done the seemingly impossible: make me want to hold my nose and support Bill Clinton. In fact, I believe the only reason his poll numbers stay high is that people know the GOP doesn't have a leg to stand on, whether in terms of squirrely campaign financing or extramarital affairs. Believe me, I've had a bellyfull of Bill; I'll be glad to see the backside of him, as inelegant as that sounds. But I don't want to see him tossed out of office on such blatantly partisan charges. Once again, a plague on both their stinking houses.

And while the media give us saturation coverage of Monica's dress (so to speak), here's what the Lizard Party has been doing: Killed the minimum wage hike. Killed campaign finance reform again, on a filibuster with 52 Senators in favor, but 60 needed to overrule Trent Lott. Made it more difficult for ordinary folks (but not big corporations) to declare bankruptcy. Paved the way for the high-tech industry to import cheap workers instead of hiring Americans. Watered down the Patients' Bill of Rights. Loaded up Interior appropriations with anti-environmental riders. And that's just for starters (but hey, we killed fast track again!)

So while it's clear that Al Gore wouldn't be much worse than Bill, he wouldn't be much better, either, and he'd leave Newt as next in line. I do expect further shoes to drop on the Clinton scandals (this is, after all, a slow-motion coup attempt), but they'll have to come up with something more substantial than what we've seen so far. So I say, reluctantly: two cheers for the Weasel Party.

My Visit to NixonLand, part 3

See also Part 1 and Part 2.

Unbeknownst to me, John had been approached earlier by a pert young Nixonette who asked, with a teehee, if she could have one of those brochures. Once the reporters were through with us in the Watergate room, I expressed a desire to go see the Kennedy-Nixon debates. “Let us go contemplate the memory of John F. Kennedy,” I told Joyner. “Aloud.”

Suddenly we were in the presence of a Liddyesque character of about fifty who exuded an aura of sheer malevolence. “Allright,” he barked, “you boys are coming with me!” John and I fell into lockstep with him as he strode rapidly westward. He had the air of a man who was used to being obeyed. He was tall and gaunt, with baggy, cold, steel-grey eyes and a ring of silver stubble around the back of his skull.

“Why, sir?” I queried, “What’s wrong? Are we being thrown out?”

The skinhead dude waved one of my cubist Nixons at me. “That’s right. You can’t be handing out literature in here.”

“Well, gosh, I wish you had told me earlier. If only I had known...”

“What if,” offered John, “we stopped?”

“It’s too late,” he hissed, “you guys are out of here.”

Since it was clear that we were not being dragged into a back room and beaten with rubber hoses (an option our escort had no doubt written off with reluctance due to the large media presence), I decided to have a bit of sport with the man during our final moments in the library. The three of us were now striding into the large, resonant lobby area.

“Well of course you have EVERY RIGHT to throw us out of here,” I brayed. “After all, its PRIVATE PROPERTY!”

“That’s right!” Joyner chimed in. “And that’s what America is ALL ABOUT! PRIVATE PROPERTY!”

“YES! You bought it! You paid for it! And you can say WHATEVER YOU WANT in here! It’s not as if you were ACCOUNTABLE to the TAXPAYERS for the TRUTHFULNESS of your claims! It’s YOUR PROPERTY!”

Having deposited us at the front door, Mr. Skinhead turned his back on us as we thanked him for a pleasant stay. Pushing open the glass door, I was sucked from the air-conditioned comfort of the Nixon Library into the blast funace that was midmorning Yorba Linda. However, also in marked contrast to the immediate past, we now found ourselves accompanied by a library employee who was not the least bit intimidating.

His name tag identified him as Bill Shinkel, a barrel-shaped, sixtyish gentleman who was slow to grasp the situation. “So, how far do I have to go before I’m back on public property?” I demanded of him.

“Well, out there on Yorba Linda Boulevard, I guess.”

John, meanwhile, was hit with a flash of inspiration. “How about if I go back inside and see if they’ll let us stay if we get rid of the brochures?”

“Um, well, I don’t know,” offered Bill, as he turned to see Joyner disappearing into the edifice. John had spotted Garchik of the Chronicle chatting with library honcho Kevin Cartwright. “Did you know we got thrown out?” he opened.

Ms. Garchik thereupon expressed an interest in the details of our predicament, leading Cartwright to begin backpedaling. Overruling his zealous subordinate, he assured Joyner and Garchik that we would be welcome to resume our perusal of the facility if we refrained from dispensing our `literature.’

In the meantime, I had begun explaining to yet another reporter about my lifelong interest in Nixon, only to be interrupted by an inquiry from Bill. “Why don’t you just go through the normal channels like anyone else and get your book published, instead of handing out leaflets?”

“Well, it has been published, Bill; I published it myself.”

“What’s it called, then?”

The Nixon Saga: A Pathography in Twelve Parts.”

“Well, I never heard of it!” he blustered. “I haven’t seen it on any bestseller lists.”

“And you’re not likely to, either,” I smiled, at which point Joyner reappeared with a report on his successful negotiations. Now Bill became friendly once again, or perhaps he was merely trying to show us the error of our ways, by producing an actual Presidential Ballpoint Pen.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked gravely, expecting us to be impressed. “This is an actual pen used by President Nixon to sign a bill. They don’t hand these out to just anybody, you know.”

Obviously they do, I thought, but responded with enthusiasm, “That’s splendid, Bill. You’ve got to feel good about that.” Turning to Joyner, I shrugged “Come on, let’s get rid of this `literature’ so we can continue enhancing the quality of our experience here.”

Before long, the strength had been drained from my body during the sweltering trek back to our vehicle. Yorba Linda is a municipality remarkably hostile to pedestrian traffic, even by LA standards. John and I searched in vain along the endless strip malls for some sort of establishment at which to grab a bite and a drink. We finally spotted a doughnut shop, and, finding nothing edible, consumed several bottles of orange juice to fortify us for the task ahead.

Displaying our ticket stubs, we reentered Nixonland flashing a pair of toothy grins at the hairless security chief. The beam of concentrated hatred directed our way dissipated any thoughts we might have had regarding further gloating over our victory. “Now, before we were so rudely interrupted,” I turned to John, “I believe we were looking for the Kennedy-Nixon debates.”

I don’t know why we should have been surprised at that point, but the debate exhibit was a hopeless farce. Instead of letting JFK speak for himself, his views were summarized by a narrator, who offered several snide references implying that the only reason Jack was perceived as the winner was his photogenic pretty-boy image. We left in disgust.

John then suggested a look at the “Ask Mr. Nixon” exhibit, something he had checked out earlier. A touch-sensitive interactive video screen displays a computer menu of 400 preselected questions, which Nixon then `answers’ via clips of preexisting interviews. Joyner reported that most of the clips he had seen consisted of familiar Nixonian diatribes against the press, something we found particularly ironic in light of the generally uncritical media hype surrounding the glorious dedication ceremonies of the previous day.

Assuming in advance that I would find no questions regarding the blatant Mob ties of Nixon’s close associates Chotiner, Rebozo or Colson, or on his curious financial relationships with Nazi war criminals Malaxa, Trefil and von Bolschwing, I scanned the menu for other items of interest. Stopping at the category `US Presidents,’ I was given a choice between `before your term’ or `after your term.’ The former category covered FDR through LBJ, and upon pressing `John F. Kennedy,’ I found that the third question offered was, “Where were you when you heard about President Kennedy’s assassination? Touch screen to ask this question.” When I did, I was informed, “President Nixon will answer your question in 8.3 minutes,” so John and I settled into a pair of the plush theater seats.

As we chortled with glee at the huge Nixon’s evasions and obfuscations, I became aware of somebody crouching in the aisle next to me. It was Bill Shinkel. “Hi, howya doing?” he grinned.

“Great, Bill. How’s yourself?”

“Oh, good. So,” obviously checking up on us, “what’s up? I wouldn’t have thought you’d be interested in this part.”

“Oh, on the contrary, Bill, I’m very much interested. You see, I just asked Mr. Nixon what he was doing when he found out about the assassination of President Kennedy, and since he’s given several contradictory accounts of this, and lied to the FBI about it, I just wanted to see which answer he’s gonna give.” Big smile.

“Uh, well, good,” he muttered, somewhat taken aback, and left us in peace. Finally my question appeared above the wallscreen and a narrator’s voice intoned it portentously for me. That tight, familiar little mini-smile flickered across Nixon’s face for an instant as he began, “Well, of course, I was in Dallas that day, you know, at a Pepsi-Cola board meeting,” though of course that’s not what he told the FBI agents investigating the murder. He said then that he had left Dallas “several days earlier,” despite his widely reported press conference there on the afternoon of the 21st. Later he would claim to have hopped a plane to New York the morning of the 22nd, just hours before the shooting started, though some have said he calmly ran that board meeting until 3 that afternoon, with the other board members freaking out over news of the President’s death.

Whichever it was, the FBI kindly allowed Mr. Nixon to correct his `mistaken’ impressions of the moment no American alive that day will ever forget. He finally settled on the version that is immortalized at the “Ask Mr. Nixon” exhibit, to wit: he heard the news during his cab ride from the airport in New York, immediately phoned J.Edgar Hoover, and asked, was it “one of the nuts?” No, Hoover informed him, it was a communist. I watched Nixon’s eyes as he related the incident, and, just as I had while watching his televised speeches as a 12-year-old, found him less than convincing.

It was time, I decided, to share my impressions with Laura, the reporter from the Orange County Register, who we found in the cavernous lobby. She invited us to step outside and settle down on a shady stretch of pavement. Excitedly, I explained the disingenuousness of Nixon’s answer to my question, since the `communist’ Oswald had not even been arrested when the alleged conversation with Hoover took place. Furthermore, I informed her, both Nixon and Hoover had attended a `party’ the night before the assassination at the home of Dallas oil millionaire Clint Murchison, who was clearly tied in to the conspiracy against JFK.

At this point, I saw a number of emotions playing across Laura’s face. These fellows are plainly drug-addled, she decided, but they have obviously done their homework. At the same time, I could see some real curiosity over the mysterious circumstances of President Kennedy’s death, alongside a decision that this was clearly outside of her purview as a reporter. “So,” she chirped, “is there anything you like about Nixon?”

Left momentarily speechless, I allowed Joyner to field that one, and before long, the three of us had wrestled the interview to a finish (our views were not noted for posterity in the next day’s Register). John and I reentered the Library to begin more careful examination of some of the exhibits. As we walked into the Domestic Policy hall, somebody, somewhere had opened a forbidden door, thus setting off a high-pitched, squealing alarm that was to continue for some ten minutes until the Nixonites figured out how to shut it off.

At about this point, John and I decided we had wrung about as much entertainment value out of the Richard M. Nixon Library as we were likely to.  I muttered "let's bail," and we departed to spend the rest of the day at the more entertaining Griffith Observatory. But before we left, I couldn't help signing the Opening Day guest book with the name of "Jack Ruby, Dallas TX." I did so because of reports (possibly apocryphal) indicating that Ruby had worked for Nixon's HUAC committee back in 1947.

When the next guy in line signed the book after me, I heard him utter a low "Ohhhh, boy!" as we waved smilingly one last time at the security staff and emerged into the stifling Orange County heat.

Wealthfare Wednesdays

Alright, I know it's Saturday; here's the deal:

Early on I mentioned that I would post a roundup of links on corporate welfare from time to time. But except for one brief post, I never got around to doing that. So let me try it this way: every Thursday morning I'll start a "Wealthfare Wednesday" draft post, and add links throughout the week as I stumble across items during my periods of intense study of the Internet. Then I can hit "publish" the following Wednesday, and let you keep up to date with all the ways your tax money is being handed over to the overprivileged.

But after grazing through my browser history, I've got more than enough links to post. So I'll just start a new draft for next Wednesday. Ready?

So, for instance, this Daily Kos diary summarizes a proposal from the Job Party identifying two trillion in  savings (over ten years) from cutting corporate welfare. That's about $200 billion a year, which is a nice start. About a quarter of their total comes from modest cuts to the Pentagon budget.

Helpfully, AlterNet's Joshua Holland, combing a report from the National Priorities Project, offers us "Five Eye-Opening Facts About Our Bloated Post-9/11 'Defense' Spending."

When you click on that same NPP report, their bottom line is that when you combine the separate budget lines of "defense" and "homeland security," you find that since 9/11 we've spent $7.6 trillion. The DHS part has gone from $16 billion in 2001 to $69 billion in 2011 – a 300% increase, in contrast to DoD's more modest 43% hike.

Senator John Tester took a stab at urging sanity, in an open letter suggesting we could maybe afford to shut down a few military bases here and there. Response: crickets chirping.

Along those lines, David Swanson had some fun batting around the NYT's feeble attempts to take heaping teaspoonfuls out of the military budget ocean. At the same time, WaPo looks at $32 billion squandered on weapons systems that were eventually cancelled. 

To their credit, though, the Times likewise swatted down GOP claims that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would spike gas prices. 

Here's a useful link to the Real Cost of Prisons Project.

Also on AlterNet, Alison Kilkenny highlights  "4 Fantastically Stupid Projects Pushed By Republicans Aiming to Please Their Corporate Masters." If you're in a hurry, this includes KY's biblical theme park, TX's tax breaks for yachts, NJ's mega-mall boondoggle, and various state subsidies for union-busters.

Last month the redoubtable David Cay Johnston served up a dose of data to coincide with Tax Day: "Tax facts: The truth about who pays and who doesn't in America's bracket racket." Be sure and take your blood pressure meds.

Scarey Lives

S. Carey and Other Lives, currently touring together, are kindred spirits: midwestern indie-folkies with a hushed, layered, midtempo approach. Each band has forged a meticulous soundscape, and for both, the motto seems to be "consistency is the spice of life." The results are not for the impatient, but within the aural universe of either band, the variations play out with complexity and subtlety.

S. Carey is in no sense scary – it's led by Wisconsin singer/songwriter Sean Carey (and also includes his sister Shannon Carey). Sean, who has a degree in classical percussion, mostly plays piano onstage. Carey also plays drums for Bon Iver – a job he scored by memorizing For Emma, Forever Ago and then approaching Justin Vernon backstage, telling him he'd like to work with him.

Carey brings this sense of purpose to his own songs, collected on his debut All We Grow. If they don't achieve Bon Iver's melodic heft, it's because Carey is interested in a more meditative, ambient sound. His songs owe as much to minimalist composers like Glass and Reich as to indie compatriots like Fleet Foxes or Sigur Rós, and are more concerned with instrumental blends than with lyrics.

Onstage, Carey and his bandmates all play multiple instruments, with much of the color coming from guitarist Nick Ball. The songs maintained a consistency of mood, sedate and portentous. Only one number, mid-set, built up into a powerful roar as Carey turned from his keyboard to attack a pair of kettle drums, Ball climbed the fretboard to a blissful crescendo, Jeremy Boettcher switched from upright to electric bass, and Ben Lester stroked a bow across his vibraphone keys.

Oklahoma's Other Lives also consists of five multi-instrumentalists with a generally restrained sensibility – but in their case, they don't limit themselves to one instrument at a time. Their fuller presence comes from a holistic approach to looping that never feels gimmicky. Among the many components of their stage setup were cello, violin, harmonium, drum set, tympani, marimba, trumpet, castanets, acoustic guitar, and electric bass. They use a software called Ableton Live to mix in real time, with players turning from their main axe to punctuate the ensemble sound with brief, colorful ostinatos for the sampler.

This more orchestral indie-folk sound, crafted over 14 months to create their second album Tamer Animals, is a progression from their eponymous 2009 debut. As frontman Jesse Tabish told the Muse in Music: "I just started hearing more in my head the sound that I was looking for and started getting into MIDI keyboard and I have an orchestral program on my computer so I was just able to daydream about a more idealistic approach to the record."

Tabish's aquiline tenor soared above his bandmates as each song rose from an organic pulse to the intricate grandeur of their combined instrumentation. If there was little variability to his singing, it's because he regards his voice as another of the instruments, leaving the impressionistic lyrics up to the listener to interpret. Tabish has stated that Other Lives is "more of an ensemble than a rock band," and as such, they succeed on their own terms. Their set was every bit as impressive as the headliners', and each band complemented the other like a handshake.

Videos: S. Carey, "In the Dirt" and Other Lives, "Paper Cities" (2009 - no videos of their new stuff yet).

Note: I won free tickets to this show by answering the trivia question: "Which member of the Senate Watergate committee is still serving today?"

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron 1949-2011

Gil Scott-Heron was a poet and musician and one of the true godfathers of rap music. His poltically-charged, jazz-tinged speech-songs were totally unique and hugely influential. Scott-Heron had just made a terrific comeback album after a stint in prison for a controlled substances violation. He will be missed.

Here he is making fun of Ronald Reagan:

UPDATE: This piece from the New Yorker is a useful rundown on GS-H's career.

Springsteen & Costello

Your Friday night video: "London Calling," live at the 2003 Grammys. With Elvis, Bruce, Dave Grohl & Little Steven van Zandt.

My Visit to NixonLand, part 2

Click here for Part 1.

Joyner and I moved quickly through the next few rooms - a hallway full of souvenirs and a spacious tribute to Nixon’s domestic policies - so as to get a feel for the Watergate exhibit. We walked into a long, dimly-lit room (“the second-largest exhibit space in the museum”) with a rambling 12-part defense of Nixon’s actions, above which were a series of quotations from Nixon’s admirers and `enemies.’ The text defined Watergate as “a catchword for every misjudgment, miscalculation or crime, imagined or real, that had ever been contemplated by anyone even remotely connected with the Nixon administration.”

Nixon himself, it is conceded, says that he made inexcusable misjudgments - left unspecified - during the course of the affair. These little mistakes, though, were “ruthlessly exploited” by his opponents “as a way to further their own, purely political goals,” - in marked contrast, of course, to the lofty philosophical plane that Nixon operated on.

Throughout the text, in sections like “The Drumbeat Swells,” “The Fishing Expedition Continues,” and “Meanwhile, Beyond the Beltway,” it was implied that Nixon’s descent into the quagmire was caused by an overzealous press corps and a bunch of Kennedy liberals in the Special Prosecutor’s office. The press, inexplicably, focused an inordinate amount of attention on John Dean’s testimony that Nixon had obstructed justice, “when he was contradicted by every other witness before the committee.” As for Prosecutor Cox, he refused to accept a perfectly reasonable compromise whereby he could take the word of senile Dixiecrat John Stennis that there was nothing incriminatory on the subpoenaed tapes. Along with these feeble excuses, another familiar scapegoat was trotted out.

“Nixon was also concerned,” it ran, “ that his friend and former Attorney General John Mitchell, who was chairman of the campaign committee, might not have been minding the store, so burdened was he by the difficult troubles his wife, the colorful Martha Mitchell, was experiencing.”

“These people are shameless!” I exclaimed. “They’ve got a lot of nerve trying to pin this on Martha Mitchell after what they did to her.”

“Why, Mark,” asked John, egging me on, “what did they do to her?”

“Oh, kidnapped her, beat her, drugged her...”

“Why would they do that?”

“Well, she would call up reporters in the middle of the night and say things like `my husband and the President are doing terrible things, they’re mixed up with organized crime.’ She’d probably have a lot more interesting things to say about it, if she wasn’t dead.” Many of the tourists gawking at the Watergate display listened to this exchange with interest, though others sidled away as quickly as possible. My assertions, however, were completely beyond the pale for a pair of elderly Republican women.

“Oh, they think they know it all, but they don’t know anything,” sniffed one.

“But I’ve been studying the man for eight years,” I offered.

“Well, what have you read?”

“All of the relevant texts.”

“He has!” injected Joyner, but the ladies left us with a humph. Undaunted, we sat down to listen to the Watergate tapes at a comfortable display in the middle of the room. Unfortunately, we found that two of the three tapes to be included in the exhibit would not be installed for another couple of months. Later I would note with puzzlement that the two tapes, for April 21st and 22nd, 1973, were not included in my Presidential Transcripts paperback. I wondered what relevance these conversations would have to Nixon’s defense, coming just days after he had authorized paying a million dollars in hush money to E. Howard Hunt, tender of a closetful of fairly large skeletons. What it came down to, then, was that the sole Watergate tape available to visitors to the Nixon Library on opening day was the `Smoking Gun Tape’ of June 23, 1972. When the transcript was released, in August of 1974, it destroyed what little support Nixon had left, as it proved that he had been bald-facedly lying for the previous two years- to his wife and daughters, his befuddled lawyers, and the American people- when he claimed to be unaware of any attempts to cover up his Administration’s involvement with the Watergate break-in.

Neither John or I had ever heard the tape before, and we howled with laughter to hear Nixon mutter the familiar words, “Thank God it wasn’t Colson,” when informed of John Mitchell’s role in the affair. We glanced knowingly at each other as we heard Nixon tell his Chief of Staff Haldeman to get the CIA to derail the FBI’s investigation of Watergate “because it would open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing...” - a reference, Haldeman later said, to the assassination of President Kennedy.

The obvious problem with the Nixon Library’s presentation of this crucial information was that it had been heavily and selectively edited. After each damning instance of obstruction of justice, the Smoking Gun Tape would stop, and a narrator would explain, in effect, that even though the President and his aide sound like a couple of gangsters, it not nearly as bad as it sounds, because they’re just exploring all of their options, or speaking hypothetically, or so on. Interspersed with the historic dialogue are what are purported to be excerpts from Nixon’s personal dictabelt diary from that evening, contradicting the impressions given by the Haldeman tape - though for some reason, the actual dictabelt is not used, and an actor reads us the words Nixon is alleged to have spoken that night.

Even more suspicious, as Joyner pointed out, is that one of the Smoking Gun excerpts is cut off in mid-sentence. After Nixon asks Haldeman, “Well, what the hell, did Mitchell know about this?”, he is informed, “I think so. I don’t think he knew the details, but I think he knew.” Nixon’s response to that, library visitors are told, was, “He didn’t know how it was going to be handled.” At this point an abrupt electronic click punctuates the statement. When we examined the full transcript the next day, we found that what Nixon actually said was, “He didn’t know how it was going to be handled though - with Dahlberg and the Texans and so forth? Well who was the asshole that did? Is it Liddy? Is that the fellow? He must be a little nuts!” Not only does the Yorba Linda version hide Nixon’s detailed knowledge of the matter, it turns a question about Mitchell’s knowledge into a flat statement of innocence on the part of Nixon’s longtime crony.

The glib narration also explains away Nixon’s worries over opening the “scab” of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, involving “those Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves.” In fact, Nixon was hip-deep in plans to assassinate Castro and invade Cuba before John F. Kennedy was ever elected President. Most of the men arrested at the Watergate were part of those operations. E. Howard Hunt and his cohort Frank Sturgis were members of the CIA/Mafia assassination squad Operation 40, and both men have been repeatedly linked to the plot that took JFK’s life in Dealy Plaza. Nixon’s skittishness over these matters is thus perfectly understandable, but library visitors are merely told, in a memorable turn of phrase, that the President was referring to policies that were “legitimate, but hard to explain.”

At this point, our incessant hoots of derision had attracted the attention of still more reporters. They took turns interviewing the two of us, trading places once they had finished. I gave a terse soundbite to a local radio station regarding Nixon’s financial ties to organized crime and expatriate Nazis. I doubt that the bit was ever aired, but the Los Angeles Times for the next day quoted me as saying,”I think it’s just an awful, grandiose spectacle. It’s a terrible waste of money to glorify this awful man.” The Times also carried a brief account of what happened next.

To be continued...

Libya Roundup

It's been almost six weeks since I last blogged about Libya; it was a stalemate then and it's a stalemate now.

My focus in that post was to examine "just war" doctrine, one of the tenets of which is to make sure that intervention doesn't make matters worse. Veteran war correspondent Patrick Cockburn argues that this one has  – unsurprisingly, since "wars often widen and deepen existing fissures in a society."

Doug Bandow agrees, noting that we're trapped in a "foolish Goldilocks strategy" which is "just enough to save civilians, but not quite enough to oust dictator Muammar Qaddafi."

Viktor Kostev, like many others, compares this intervention to the Kosovo war. In that case, NATO sought to break the stalemate with ever-increasing pressure on the capital city and its inhabitants. But the difference in Libya? "Though nobody would admit it, their lives are almost certainly cheaper in the minds of Western politicians than are Serbian and Albanian lives." Thus we can expect a prolonged war of attrition lasting more than the 78 days of Kosovo sorties (we're 11 days away from that now).

David Dayen of FDL reports on Western reaction to Qadaffy's latest offer to negotiate. It doesn't meet the condition of having the Q-Ball removed from power, but it does open the door  a bit. Sarkozy, meanwhile, offers a bit of comparable squishiness on that crucial sticking point. Despite any ambiguity, though, it seems like it will take a lot more bombing before any meeting of the minds is possible.

For as Cockburn notes, the rebels have no credible scenario for gaining power without air strikes to back them up, which makes regime change their minimum demand. Col. Q, in this situation, is incentivized to hang on as long as possible.

If you're under your free-article quota at the NYT site, Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger review how war fatigue - of which there was plenty even before the latest installment was added - constrains the options of the intervenors, and has to be part of Q-man's calculations. That fatigue is reflected in Wednesday's House vote to bar funding for any ground troops in Libya: only 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted against it. Unfortunately, that just leaves air strikes as the only kinetic option, which is a recipe for higher civilian casualties, in a war ostensibly designed to prevent them. However, as Kostev reports in another piece, planning for a ground war may have already begun.

Schmitt and Sanger also helpfully quote President Obama's March position on regime change:
Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.
However, that seems to be a mistake we're increasingly willing to commit to.  For a comparable bit of cognitive dissonance, FDL's Attaturk points to the French foreign minister's tautological formulation on whether Qadaffy is a target of our airstrikes: "We don't want to kill him," he said. "Because we are not killers."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Visit to NixonLand, part 1

The Nixon library has been in the news of late, as control of the materials has reverted to the National Archives. With Nixon's people no longer able to doctor the history, a new Watergate exhibit has opened. Many of the Nixon people felt that the original Watergate exhibit should have been preserved along with the new one, and for once, I agree with them. Everyone in America should have the chance to see for themselves Nixon's last, desperate, feckless effort to spin his legacy. Getting thrown out of Nixon's library on opening day was one of the proudest moments of my life. I remember it like it was yesterday....

I licked the blood from my fingers as I strode towards the grand opening ceremonies for the Nixon library in Yorba Linda, California. I had just stubbed my toe something fierce on a piece of loose grating, running late as usual. Reaching down to assess the damage, I squeezed the injured digit, producing a copious flow of blood onto my hand, but also clotting the wound satisfactorily. “I don’t want to miss this for anything,” I told my travelling companion, John Joyner. “Perhaps the Nixon people will have some bandages for you,” he laughed.

Arriving on time was a matter of some importance, if not complete urgency. When we had arrived the previous dawn for the historic Meeting of the Presidents, Yorba Linda Boulevard was jammed with tens of thousands of starstruck Republicans. After mingling with this bunch for several hours in the stifling heat and smog, we decided to blow off the dedication ceremonies and listen to the ponderous speeches in a bar somewhere. This morning turned out to be another matter entirely. It was still dark when John and I showed up, but we could easily have grabbed a few more hours of shuteye. Sitting on the steps of the entryway was one solitary tourist named Milt, a goofball from God knows where, who as John put it, “gives new credence to the Lone Nut theory.”

Thus, we were unsure of what to expect, with the scheduled 8:30 opening only minutes away. What we found was a knot of about forty or fifty people, at least half of them reporters, the remainder actual Nixon fans. John and I, quite obviously, did not fall into either category. Aside from the blood-caked toe protruding from my beach sandals, I wore turquoise pants with a half-broken zipper, a purple short-sleeved shirt, and a baseball cap emblazoned “Kafka.” I was sunburned, unshaven, and pouring sweat. John, as I recall, was dressed in black trousers and a red “Jobs not Jails” T-shirt. Apart from the question of his shaggy black hair and beard, his Mediterranean/Carribbean ancestry made him one of the few persons of any color at all in attendance (excepting, of course the overwhelmingly Latino grounds crew).

“A decided paucity of raving conspiracy freaks,” noted John, correctly. We milled around nervously, waiting for the doors to open. Apart from a bit of orange juice, our only breakfast had been a once-popular derivative of ergot, a mold that grows on rye. It put the hoped-for emotional edge on the day’s events, but left us feeling even more wild-eyed and conspicuous than we appeared. Finally the formalities commenced, and the less than rabid crowd shuffled towards the door.

“This is a very exciting day for us,” droned a sweating dignitary. “Now the world will know where Yorba Linda , California is... for our friends in the media, we ask that you not interview the guests until they have left the library, so that you don’t interfere with the quality of their experience here.” He then introduced the Mayor, Gene Weisner, who chuckled lamely that he was expecting a much larger crowd, then proceeded to introduce the entire City Council, one by one. Finally the portals were opened for ten-year-old Andy Toole of Tucson, who had been selected as the first paying customer to enter Nixon’s ghastly monument to himself.

Once we had payed our $3.95 and edged our way in, there was a further delay while the Nixon people scurried to prepare the auditorium for the premiere of Nixon’s 27-minute biopic “Never Give Up.” Meanwhile, Milt, the predawn goofball, sidled up to us, asking if we wanted our “names in the paper.” He introduced us to Laura, a reporter for the Orange County Register, who wondered, quite logically, what we were doing there.

“I’ve been studying Nixon for seven or eight years,” I explained, “and I’ve written a book about him,” handing her a brochure describing my self-published art book, The Nixon Saga. “I drove down here from Santa Cruz. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. I wanted to see how this treacherous man could draw this kind of respect.” By now thoroughly amused by us, Laura invited us to seek her out and share our impressions of the library with her, once we had sufficiently immersed ourselves in the experience.

As we settled into our seats, one of the Nixon people announced that one could proceed into the museum without viewing the film, but that once departed from the museum one would most emphatically not be allowed back in. Thus warned, John and I began snickering in amazement as the lights dimmed and the cheesy fanfare heralded the beginning of the film, Nixon’s moment of triumph from the 1968 Republican convention. As the narrative progressed through strategically selected highlights of Nixon’s career, the effects of our breakfast made his face pulsate with demonic energy. Interspersed with the stock footage were segments filmed just two months earlier of the old boy waxing philosophic. Slathered with pancake makeup, squinting into the lights, his hair by now completely gray, the eight-foot-high visage of the man we had driven 500 miles to dishonor now hovered before us. From our corner of the auditorium came bursts of laughter and occasional snorted comments, though as the Nixon functionary inched closer to us, I cautioned John not to get us thrown out . Not just yet anyway. We were definitely out to test the limits of our hosts’ patience, but not before drinking in the ambience of the place. When the house lights came up, the emcee, eyeing us nervously, announced to the crowd that they had changed their mind, and we could come and go as we pleased. With that, the doors to the library were thrown open.

As I gawked at the first display, the Hall of Time Magazine Covers, I was approached by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Leah Garchik. “What would a man in a Kafka cap,” she smiled, “be doing here?” “Oh, I just came to see the spectacle,” I replied, explaining to her about my book and the purpose of the trip. She asked to see one of my brochures, and we discussed the artwork, including the Picasso-style cubist portrait of Tricky on the cover. “That’s uh, Edvard Munch, isn’t it?” she asked, indicating a parody of Munch’s `The Scream’ with Nixon in the title role. “Right, and this is George Herriman’s `Krazy Kat’ - used to run in the Examiner,” I pointed out, indicating a feline Nixon being beaned by Ignatz Mouse’s ubiquitous brick. Garchik asked where the book was available, saying she would give me “a little plug” in her column (which she did, to my gratitude).

Thanking her profusely, Joyner and I proceeded to the next exhibit, a long curving room whitewashing Nixon’s campaigns for the House, the Senate and the Vice-Presidency. At one end, excerpts from the Checkers Speech (or the Fund Crisis Speech, as Nixon prefers) are available at the touch of a button. While John whimpered loudly in mock sympathy for Pat Nixon’s minkless wardrobe, I checked out the Alger Hiss exhibit.

Donning headphones, I stood before a glass case containing a pumpkin, an old Woodstock typewriter, and the microfilm evidence that miraculously surfaced when charges against Hiss were about to be dropped. The narrator breathlessly recounted the myth of the heroic Congressman’s battle against Convicted Perjurer Hiss. When the flimsy evidence against Hiss was pronounced “irrefutable,” I ripped off the headphones with a snort.

While I scrutinized the rooms devoted to the 1960 Presidential race and the so-called “Wilderness Years,” Joyner came racing up.

“Zep, you’ve got to see this. Brace yourself.” As he led me into the Hall of Great World Leaders, we burst into laughter at the distorted caricatures of Krushchev and Brezhnev. The other statues, according to the Orange County Register’s 16-page pullout section on the Library, “are arranged as if the late leaders are having casual conversations. Golda Meir of Israel seems ready to speak with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat,” though of course Mrs. Meir, under Nixon and Kissinger’s tutelage, completely ignored Sadat’s 1971 peace offer. The groupings of Adenauer and De Gaulle with Churchill, and Chou with Mao show more dignity than the brutish Soviets, though in a perplexing addition, Japan’s Yoshida Shigeru stares off into space, having a casual conversation with himself. Completing the room’s decor are 20-foot tall glass cases of “treasures” given to Nixon during his Presidency, including, tastelessly, a carved elephant tusk.

Our mood of general hilarity was further enhanced by the next pavilion, “Foreign Affairs: The Structure of Peace.” A tacky replica of a Chinese shrine is overshadowed by an even tackier cardboard Kremlin, which on closer inspection proves to be a fairly inept stucco representation of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Cackling with laughter, John and I searched in vain for discussions of Nixon’s foreign policy triumph in Chile, or his relationships with tinhorn dictators like Marcos and the Shah. Tucked into a corner, as promised, was a “typical 1960-style suburban home,” wherein Vietnam, “the first television war, is played out in an exhibit that includes a period TV set.”

As I examined the dubious claims in the text mounted on the walls, Joyner sat down before the set and began bitterly heckling Nixon’s “Silent Majority “ speech. This attracted the attention of yet another reporter, who began questioning John about his age at the time of the speech. He began recounting his Orange County childhood to her, whereupon they were interrupted by a grizzled Nixon docent in a green blazer. “We said there was to be no interviewing in here,” he growled. “That’s okay,” John inserted quickly, “I want to talk to her.” “Yeah,” I added, “she’s not detracting from our experience in the least.”

“No!” he snarled. “NO interviewing! we told you people already. Now you can talk to people when they leave, but until then you follow the guidelines!” With that he stalked away. “Sheesh!” grinned the reporter. “Yeah, it’s like their first instinct is to stifle dissent,” John sneered. “Well, I guess, there’s nothing to prevent us from having a friendly little conversation, not really asking or answering any questions you know...” He faced dramatically away from the reporter while continuing to talk to her. Chuckling, she resumed the interview for several more minutes until the man in lime green appeared once again.

“Ah, listen, we’ve changed our mind, and you can talk to anyone you want to. Would you be sure and tell the others?” The exasperated reporter rolled her eyes heavenward as John bellowed after the Nixon geek, “Another victory for freedom of expression!”

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

BobFest: 10 Worst Dylan Songs

Just for you, I celebrated Dylan's birthday by listening to what are arguably his five worst albums: Self Portrait, Saved, Down in the Groove, Knocked Out Loaded, and Under the Red Sky (no, the Xmas album doesn't count). And let me just say this about that. There are some redeemable, even fine moments on all of these albums. And even some of his really bad songs have a well-turned phrase pop up here and there. But hey, nobody bats a thousand. You can't paint your masterpiece every time.

Bob Weir was talking recently about the impossibly high standards people have for Dylan - but Dylan set those standards pretty high himself with the sustained home run streak of his first nine albums. So sure, Self Portrait was a deliberate mindfuck - it's easy to see how its embrace of the countrypolitan ethos could freak out fans of the "thin wild mercury" sound as surely as plugging in freaked out the folkies. But, you know, as Mark Twain said about Wagner, it's not as bad as it sounds.

These days Dylan says he himself is in awe of the young songwriter who penned such gems as "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," remarking that "I can do other things now. But I can't do that." And Dylan himself got a little bit fed up with his own songwriting after the batting-average slump reflected in the latter three albums listed above ("The world doesn't need any more Bob Dylan songs," he grumbled). But any songwriter his age who can point to recent compositions like "Not Dark Yet," "Things Have Changed," "Mississippi" or "Ain't Talkin'" has no reason to envy the prodigy he once was.

The breadth and scope of Dylan's back catalogue leaves plenty of room for casual, tossed off ditties and frivolities. But that said, let me close out this series with a look at a few tunes that just rub me the wrong way.

All the Tired Horses (Self Portrait, 1970)
Okay, okay, I get the joke. But forgive me if I don't shuffle it on my iPod. Complete lyrics, sung by a choir: "All the tired horses in the sun/how'm I supposed to get any writing done?"

Are You Ready? (Saved, 1980)
Dylan's very own rapture anthem, with a vengeful Yahweh smiting those who worship Him in the wrong church: "Have you decided whether you want to be/In heaven or in hell?" Um, let me get back to you on that one.

Band of the Hand (It's Hell Time Man!) (Band of the Hand Soundtrack, 1986)
What am I supposed to make of this? Hell time, indeed. As Wikipedia describes it, it's about "the ruthlessness of the vigilante justice which will be used to confront the immorality of the criminal drug world." Confront them with this movie and they'll repent their ways.

Joey (Desire, 1975)
You know, I'm ready to defend Dylan's singing voice to anyone who wants to argue. He's got a big nose, man, get over it. But more than, arguably, glorifying a gangster, it's the chorus that spoils this for repeated listening: "Jooooooooeeeeyyyyy, Jooooooeeeeyyyyyy...."

Neighborhood Bully (Infidels, 1983)
The geopolitical analysis here is enough to confirm the wisdom of his earlier abandonment of the protest-song format. Even in 1983, the idea of a helpless Israel with "no allies," who was "not supposed to fight back" was pretty ridiculous. These days, it's, in a word, "indefensible."

Night After Night (Hearts of Fire Soundtrack, 1987)
Mostly what I'm talking about here is the songwriting, not the actual performance on the recording. You could argue that he's written cheesier lyrics than these. But the cheesiness of the 80s synth arrangement certainly doesn't help matters. Kind of looks like Bob phoned this one in.

Precious Angel (Slow Train Coming, 1979)
Who was it that said "I become my enemy/in the instant that I preach"? The same guy who wrote "Now there’s spiritual warfare and flesh and blood breaking down/Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief and there ain’t no neutral ground." Okay, I hate to quibble, but isn't the word "disbelief"?

Ugliest Girl in the World (Down in the Groove, 1987)
Oh man. There is just no reason for this song to exist. Must have been what he had in mind when he swore off writing Bob Dylan songs for a few years.

Wiggle Wiggle (Under the Red Sky, 1992)
There's a lot of good stuff on this album, not necessarily recorded as well as it could have been. And then there's this number. If Bob wants to put out an album of children's songs, this might be a perfect inclusion. But as the opening number of the follow-up to Oh Mercy, one gets the impression Bob is not giving it his all.

You Wanna Ramble (Knocked Out Loaded, 1986)
You know, if Eddie Money had written this, you could call it a career highlight. But something has to settle in at the bottom of the barrel of Dylan's oeuvre:
I said "Baby, I know
where you been
Well, I know who you are
And what league you played in"
I know what league Bob Dylan played in, too, and he didn't get there by throwing out songs like this. With all due respect – which is of course, immense.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

BobFest: 10 Overlooked Favorites

Happy 70th birthday to the Bard of Hibbing. I had planned to offer a list of "Bob Dylan's Worst Songs," but one, that seems a bit churlish today, and two, it takes a bit more research (I'm listening to Saved as I type this).

So I'll deliver that list tomorrow. Today I'll just mention a few favorites that may or may not be overlooked. It's such a huge and unsurpassed body of work that there are a lot of hidden corners - even if you stick to the official releases. So what follows may or may not be his "best" work - you already know that stuff - but  a few songs that stick with me for one reason or another.

Black Diamond Bay (Desire, 1975)
Possibly inspired by a Joseph Conrad story, this sprawling epic, (co-written with Jacques Levy) is full of great scenes and indelible characters. A wide-screen movie in seven and a half minutes.

Cat's in the Well (Under the Red Sky, 1992)
Dylan has enjoyed playing this enigmatic piece quite a bit during the Never-Ending Tour, and it's a sprightly number. Maybe it's an allegory about your life or his, and maybe not. Don't know why I love it so much.

Clean-Cut Kid (Empire Burlesque, 1984)
This is like a companion piece to "John Brown:" Wryer, perhaps, and less strident, but just as powerful in its antiwar sentiments. No less harrowing: "They made a killer out of him, that's what they did."

George Jackson (Masterpieces, 1971)
Like Joey Gallo, Jackson makes for a flawed antihero, but his story allows Dylan to deal with larger issues:
Sometimes I think this whole world
Is one big prison yard
Some of us are prisoners
The rest of us are guards
High Water (For Charlie Patton) (Love and Theft, 2001)
Not entirely overlooked, but doesn't show up on many lists of his greatest songs. Still, it's on my lists of his greatest performances. Every time I see him do this number, he and his band absolutely slay the audience.

If Dogs Run Free (New Morning, 1971)
I can never get enough of this one.

Mixed-Up Confusion (Biograph, 1962)
Dylan didn't exactly "turn electric" in '65. He started out as a rocker in high school, and later fell in love with folk. But this outtake shows he never fell out of love with rocking out, either.

Rita May (Masterpieces, 1975)
Bob's infatuation with the great lesbian novelist Rita May Brown inspired this lighthearted romp, issued as a single around the time of Desire. Later covered by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Trouble in Mind (B-side, 1979)
This is the only one on the list that Dylan didn't write, but it's another killer performance, and one of the highlights of his Christian period. Released as the flip side of the "Gotta Serve Somebody" single, this was written by Richard M. Jones in 1924.

Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (Basement Tapes, 1967)
Yet another goofball number from the '67 sessions that were partially released in 1975. When, oh when will they let me shell out my hard-earned dough for the complete boxed set?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Random Ten #10

This is a BobFest Random Ten. I let the iPod choose from among the 167 Dylan songs I have loaded onto it:

1. Bob Dylan & The Band/I'm In the Mood For Love/The Genuine Basement Tapes Vol. 4.

2. Bob Dylan/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Greatest Hits vol. 2

3. Bob Dylan/Put My Money Down/Genuine Bootleg Series vol. 4

4. Bob Dylan/The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar/Warfield Theater 11/15/1980

5. Bob Dylan/I Threw It all Away/Yesterday

6. Bob Dylan/Beyond Here Lies Nothin'/Together Through Life

7. Bob Dylan & the Rolling Thunder Review/Romance in Durango/Live 1975 - The Rolling Thunder Revue (Bootleg Series Vol. 5)

8. Bob Dylan/The Times We've Known (Charles Aznavour cover)/From the Vaults

9. Bob Dylan and the Sir Douglas Quintet/Obviously 5 Believers/A Quintet of Sir Doug

10. Bob Dylan & the Butterfield Blues Band/Maggie's Farm/Newport Folk Festival 1965

Obviously not all of these are from official releases.....

Sunday, May 22, 2011

BobFest: 15 Songs Dylan Has Covered

As anyone who's listened to his radio show knows, Bob is a top-notch musicologist. So this is a far from definitive list. There's an entire book devoted to running down all the various songs Dylan has covered over the years. A bootleg anthology (The Genuine Never Ending Tour Covers Collection) spanning just the years 1998-2000 runs to nine volumes. So what follows is an arbitrary review of what seems notable to me.

London Calling
Bob has only covered the definitive Clash number a couple of times, most recently during a stop in London. On his Theme Time Radio Hour, Bob mostly sticks with pre-1980 music, but tips his hat to punk and rap from time to time. .

Brown Sugar
I saw him do this in Phoenix a few years ago, and while it didn't sound much like the Stones version, it was definitely a crowd pleaser. Possibly a tribute to his second wife?

Accidentally Like a Martyr
One of several Warren Zevon songs Bob started playing around the time of Zevon's passing. He also recorded "Mutineer" for the Zevon tribute album  Enjoy Every Sandwich.

You Belong To Me
A lovely version of this, with one of Bob's finest recent vocals, appears on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack. Okay, not all that recent.

People Get Ready
Bob has recorded three different versions of Curtis Mayfield's classic. One of them was released as a Renaldo & Clara promo disc.

Return to Me
Originally a hit for Dean Martin, Bob croons his sweet cover on the Sopranos soundtrack album, vol. 2

Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache
A truly fun track from a cool tribute album called Good Rockin' Tonight - The Legacy of Sun Records.

Broke Down Engine
In the early 90s Bob released two full albums of folk and blues covers. A highlight of the 1993 album World Gone Wrong, the original of this one was written by Blind Willie McTell.

Cocaine Blues
There are two very cool and very different versions of this, one recorded in 1962, the second in 1997. The latter is available on Tell Tale Signs.

My Blue Eyed Jane
From the 1996 album Songs Of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute.

Black Muddy River
Bob has done a number of other Grateful Dead songs (Alabama Getaway, Friend of the Devil, West LA Fadeaway) as a  tribute to his pal Jerry Garcia, and just because they're damned good songs, too. But this one's probably the best of the bunch.

During the same leg of the Never Ending Tour that included the Zevon and Stones covers, Bob paid tribute to the late great George Harrison.

Wade in the Water
Detractors of Dylan's singing should listen to this gospel track from the only-in-Japan release Live 1961-2000: Thirty-Nine Years of Great Concert Performances. That's a great performance.

This Old Man
Bob was known to show up at his grandchildren's preschool in Beverly Hills, guitar in hand, to toss off a few folky kids' songs. This is from the benefit album For Our Children, which is pricey to get ahold of, but you can get a 99-cent MP3 right here.

Spanish is the Loving Tongue
From the album that doesn't count, 1973's Dylan. It was released against his wishes, consisting of outtakes from Self Portrait, which as noted, was designed to be off-putting to Dylan fans. This album is even more so. But while this track is the best of a bad bunch, you probably don't need to hear it more than once.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Night Video for the Continuation of the World

You know, something tells me the end of the world is going to be a bit more gradual than some folks expected. So until then.....

BobFest: 11 Songs About Bob Dylan

Joan Baez, "Diamonds and Rust"
"You who are so good with words/and at keeping things vague." Whether their romance was rekindled around that time (1975), you can see genuine tension in the scenes between, Dylan, Sara and Baez in Renaldo & Clara (even though Baez seems to be the only one in that movie with any acting chops).

Syd Barrett, "Bob Dylan Blues"
Both a parody and an hommage: "My clothes and my hair's in a mess/but you know I just couldn't care less."

David Bowie, "Song for Bob Dylan"
From Hunky Dory, 1971: "Some words of truthful vengeance they could pin us to the floor"

Cat Power, "Song for Bobby"
She contributed a fine cover of "Stuck Inside of Memphis..." to the I'm Not There soundtrack. "A phone call from your New York City office/You were supposedly asking to see me"

Chumbawamba, "Give the Anarchist a Cigarette"
From their album Anarchy, riffing off an exchange between Dylan and Albert Grossman in Don't Look Back. "Nothing ever burns down by itself, every fire needs a little bit of help."

John Lennon, "Serve Yerself"
A scabrous parody of Christian Bob from Lennon's Dakota years, included on the Wonsaponatime compilation.
Well you may believe in devils and you may believe in lords
But Christ, you're gonna have to serve yourself and that's all there is to it
So get right back here it's in the bloody fridge
Dylan is of course also mentioned in the Beatles track "Yer Blues" and the Plastic Ono Band track "God."

Don McLean, "American Pie"
Not actually a song about Bob Dylan (The Jester), but about rock history from the 50s to the 70s, in which Bob of course plays a prominent part. "While the King was looking down the Jester stole his phony crown"

The Minutemen, "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs"
That's the chorus. Here's a verse:
On my window
And my fruit
Outline my root
Michael Nesmith, "St. Matthew"
Kind of obscure, but if he says it's about Dylan, who am I to argue? "Part of it is loneliness and knowing how to steal/but most of it is weariness from standing up, trying not to kneel."

Loudon Wainwright III, "Talking New Bob Dylan Blues"
Easily the funniest song ever written about Dylan. "Self Portrait/Well, it was an interesting effort"
Yeah, I got a deal and so did John Prine
Steve Forbert and Springsteen, all in a line
They were lookin' for you, signin' up others
We were new Bob Dylans, your dumb ass kid brothers
Wilco, "Bob Dylan's 49th Beard"
From the More Like the Moon EP, a bonus disc of tracks from the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions. "And things got weird/And I started growing/Bob Dylan's beard"

Romancin' the Rango

As a parent, you're always looking for that sweet spot: kids' movies that are fun for the grownups, and grownups' movies that are fun for the kids. Rango, featuring the voice talents of Johnny Depp and others, satisfies on both levels. Let the kids tell it first.

The 9-year-old: "Rango is a very fun movie. I really like how it takes place in the west because I don't see very many movies that are fun for the whole family that take place in that wonderful land. I think you should see it."

The 7-year-old: "If you haven't seen this movie you haven't seen fun! This takes place in the "wild west," and it's a great movie about a silly little chameleon called Rango."

As for the grownups, you can compete to see how many different cinematic hommages you can spot. The CGI characters have a wildly idiosyncratic look to them – far from cute and cuddly, they're lovingly ugly, and spectacularly detailed. The disparate voice talent did more than record an audio track; they wore motion capture suits to interact with each other, and their facial expressions were rendered with a technology called "emotion capture."

Toss in a soundtrack that includes the talents of Los Lobos and others, and you've got a cartoon that's utterly unlike the usual fare, and plenty of fun whether you have kids or not. But if you do have kids - or if you are a kid - I'm always looking for movie recommendations that hit that sweet spot. That last one that hit the target so directly was Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox.  So what are your favorites?

Friday, May 20, 2011

BobFest: In My Time of Dyin'

If we're all still here tomorrow, I'll post my favorite songs about Bob Dylan. Otherwise...

See also "Death is Not the End."

Friday Night Video for the End of the World

If this is our last Friday night together, let's go out in style. Nice knowin ya.....

Of course, that's kind of an obvious choice, so here's the band The Rapture with "Whoo! Alright - Yeah...uh Huh."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

BobFest: 12 Funniest Dylan Songs

This is twelve more on top of the five that Rolling Stone picked, which includes the awesome "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream." Some of Dylan's songs can be unintentionally humorous, like, say, "Sweetheart Like You." Others have humorous undertones even if the main idea is on another level; I think "4th Time Around" is pretty funny if you get right down to it. But all of these are funny on purpose, even the first one:

All The Tired Horses (Self Portrait)
This one also belongs on the list of "Bob Dylan's Worst Songs" – but just because it's terrible doesn't mean it's not a joke. There a sense in which the entire Self Portrait album is one big cruel joke - Bob has more or less copped to the fact that he made it really bad on purpose, in order to scare off some of his more rabid fans. Like that worked.

Clothes Line Saga (Basement Tapes)
Always one of my favorites, the laconic tale of a nice lad whose laundry duties are interrupted by news of the vice-president's sudden descent into madness.

It's All Good (Together Through Time)
From his most recent studio album, the cynical Elder Bob smiles through his sneer as he employs a contemporary cliche in service of his kvetching.

Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat (Blonde on Blonde)
You know, it balances on your head just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine.

Lo and Behold (Basement Tapes)
A lot of the Basement Tapes released so far are pretty damn goofy, but none of them are goofier than this one. Makes me wanna take my kids camping and sing it 'round the fire.

See Ya Later Allen Ginsberg (Basement Tapes outtake)
A lot of the unreleased Basement Tapes are even goofier. Dylan and the Band crack themselves up ad-libbing a takeoff on the Bill Haley chestnut "See Ya Later Alligator." Also recommended is the absurdist take on "Teenage Prayer."

Sittin on a Barbed Wire Fence (Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3)
Recorded in 1965, released in 1998. This Highway 61 outtake is ripe for a blistering cover version - even though you're gonna think this song is a cliff. 

Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues (Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3)
Now we come to the "Talkin'" songs, each funnier than the last one. In this epic tale, Bob takes the family on vacation and ends up in the middle of the Hatfields and McCoys.

Talkin' Hava Negiliah Blues (Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3)
This is just a tossed-off improv, but it's the intro that makes it: "Here's a foreign song I learned in Utah"

Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues (Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3)
Now we all agree with Hitler’s views
Although he killed six million Jews
It don’t matter too much that he was a Fascist
At least you can’t say he was a Communist!
That’s to say like if you got a cold you take a shot of malaria
Hmmm.. I wonder why they wouldn't let him perform it on the Ed Sullivan Show?

Talkin' World War III Blues (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
Kind of like the flip side of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." Who knew the Cuban Missile Crisis was such a lark?

TV Talkin' Song (Under the Red Sky)
Dylan wanders through Hyde Park in London and hears a preacher ranting about the evils of television: "It will scramble up your head and drag your brain about/Sometimes you gotta do like Elvis did and shoot the damn thing out."

Full lyrics over at Bob's place.