Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Sorry State Of Things

First let me say two things:

1.   I bear no ill will, nor dislike, nor even harsh feelings, for any of the genuinely stupid people in the United States, or in the world at large; and
2.   I have never thought, not even for a moment, that all of the people who voted for our fascinating and exotic Fabulous Prezzy D. John were stupid, although I will admit that from time to time it appears to me that voting for him was a stupid thing to do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m sure of it, because I do stupid things myself on a regular basis, and I expect to be forgiven. We are only men and women, after all.

Something profoundly stupid has happened to the U.S. over the course of the last thirty-seven years, and it happened because all of us stupidly allowed it to happen. All of us, including me, and almost certainly including most of my fellow Americans out there, allowed it to happen. We have allowed a country with real potential and a lot to recommend it to be turned into a red-hot mess. In the process, we have lost many of our rights, our prosperity, our security, and our pride.

Maybe it helps to live overseas to see it clearly; maybe living in America the rest of you are too close to the problem to notice it. One still frequently hears the claims that America is the greatest country in the world, whereas this has been manifestly untrue for decades already. I’m not going to start rattling off statistics, but if you’ve been paying attention at all you know it’s true. There are a lot of countries that have higher standards of living and whose citizens have much greater happiness and security than citizens in the U.S. “Well,” you might say, “we still have the most aircraft carriers!” Yes, we do, that much is true. But aircraft carriers never buttered anyone’s parsnips.

Before you chime in with, “if you hate America so much, get out!” let me say that I love America now, and I always have. I worked and paid my taxes for decades, cheerfully. I owned property and kept it tidy; I was a good neighbor. I raised two sons who as we speak are fine men. I served in the U.S. Navy (which I joined during a war), and the U.S. Peace Corps, and I have done a lot more volunteer work than most people. I was a Cub Scout den leader and pack treasurer! I gave America more than America asked of me, and I’ve never been arrested. So I think that I have a license to have an opinion about what’s going on in America, even if that opinion is negative. Oh, and I have already left, by the way. I’ve been gone for more than ten years. I have no immediate plans to come back and live in America, and as time goes on the possibility becomes increasingly remote. All I have is eyes to see, and it’s obvious that America has been sold down the river. It’s obvious that the American way of life has suffered some severe degradation. It’s beginning to look like the entire American experiment is on life support, and in 2017 someone has pulled the plug. It’s last gasp time. And weirdly, it’s obvious that most Americans are in denial about this. Either that or they just don’t care, probably because they are among the lucky ones who are still relatively prosperous and secure.

Disclaimer!

America has never been perfect, but it was pretty good there for a while. For a few decades it was finally improving in meaningful ways, which is all you can ask of a country, if you are being fair. Up through the 1920s, the United States was a great place to be rich and ambitious, and a rough place to be a working stiff who just wanted to have a job and be left in peace. Women were stifled at home, in education, and in the workplace. Recall that women could not vote until 1919. Between 1932 and 1960, Liberal Democratic administrations created a thriving middle-class, albeit a white middle-class. (The only Republican president in this period was Dwight Eisenhower, who kind of kept the ball rolling.) It was still a terrible place to be black, or Mexican/Puerto Rican, or, God forbid, homosexual. (It was terrible even though things were improving somewhat for the blacks and Hispanics.)  The civil rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s, and the women’s rights movement in the 1960s, and Stonewall, etc., in the 1970s, seemed to suggest that positive changes were possible, and maybe even on the way.

The Things That We Have Lost

While acknowledging the bad, we can highlight the good. Starting in the 1940s, and especially in the 1950s, ‘60s, and even most of the ‘70s, work was easy to find; retirement was more secure than it had ever been; university education was available to everybody, almost free; most jobs came with pretty good health insurance; housing was plentiful and affordable (buying or renting); the covenant of good faith and fair dealing was implied in every contract; providers of professional services owed their clients a fiduciary duty of care; and in retrospect, entertainments like sporting events, concerts, and movie theaters were amazingly cheap. During this period, the newspapers and the new electronic media kept a meaningful check on government in an environment featuring real competition.

Doesn’t that all sound nice? Now, of course, it’s all gone. If I were a Millennial, I’d be furious.

Who Has Done This To Us?

Allowing that wonderful, if imperfect, middle-class America to be destroyed required a citizenry who were asleep to the dangers at work around them. It required Americans who were satisfied to listen to and believe the pack of lies that they were fed. It happened because average Americans either failed to notice, or just didn’t care, that their security and happiness was being stolen from them. May I speak frankly? That was stupid.

Some days we are reminded that the stupid, like the poor, will always be with us. Some days, I, as one of the stupid, am the one doing the reminding. I will say that I had a sense of dread throughout this process, and that I often made dire predictions, but my family and friends laughed at me as though I were Chicken Little. And I was too busy trying to make a living and raise a family to shoulder any burdens on behalf of the country at large. Besides, it is easier, after all, to see these things in retrospect.

Back in the days when ruthless despotism was the general condition of humanity, the despots preferred that the majority of their subjects were stupid, or at least totally uneducated and slightly malnourished. Their preferred method of ruling was to provide a large majority of their populations with almost nothing, while always insuring that there were a certain number of people who had absolutely nothing at all. “Almost nothing” beats “nothing at all” seven days a week. People said, “Thank God that we have almost nothing! Look at those filthy beggars! That could be us!” Most people worked hard and kowtowed willingly to avoid the miserable fate that was “nothing at all.” 

A system like that works better on people who are on the stupid side. Education is one of the things that has suffered in recent decades. Our new plutocracy has succeeded in recreating that class of citizen that is barely hanging on, the members of which are desperate to avoid descending into the class that has nothing but unpayable debt, homelessness, and the prospect of prison.

Who is responsible? I peg the beginning of the end with the election of Ronald Reagan and the foundation of the modern Republican Party. I blame most of America’s current misery on them. Over the following thirty years, there was a huge increase in worker productivity (boosted by technological advances) and a vast increase in wealth (created by those new technologies and computerized banking shenanigans). Virtually all of this new wealth found its way up to the top of the financial food chain. None of this is mysterious in any way, and no credit accrues to me for figuring it out. It is common knowledge, in fact. In that same thirty years, wages stagnated and every good thing mentioned above began to evaporate. By now Americans exist in a state of deep insecurity regarding jobs, income, health care, debt management, housing, and retirement.

Forgive me if I zoom a bit of the argument here. This is a blog, not Vanity Fair or the Atlantic Magazine. You can fill in the blanks about the dumbing-down of the population, jobs going overseas, and automation reducing the need for human workers.

What about the Democrats? Haven’t we had sixteen years of Democratic Party presidents and a couple of majority Democrat congresses in the meantime? Why, sure we have! But those Liberal Democrats who created a prosperous middle-class America in the 1930’s and ‘40s have been shamefully sold out by this recent crop of lily-livered ingrates. Both of our political parties now stand firmly on the right side of the political spectrum. Both work exclusively for corporate interests and the very wealthy. They differ only on questions of narrowly defined moral issues, like abortion and gay marriage, which have been mischaracterized as religious issues for the convenience of corrupt politicians.

Say the words, “single-payer health insurance” to a Democrat! I dare you!  All you will hear is, “oh, God no!” as the Democrat turns on his heels and breaks into a trot.

All of our elected officials, with rare exceptions, have participated in our ruin. The exceptions are as rare as those minerals that can only be found in microgram quantities in certain meteorites. Don’t even get me started about that cute blond senator of a certain age. What an actress! She should get a special Oscar for her performance as a "Liberal” in the downfall of a great nation.

Reagan, that stainless-steel prick, we were told that he was just using all of that anti-Washington insider talk to get people to vote out incumbents, who were mostly Democrats. “Washington is the problem!” All the while Reagan was out on the stump discussing the end-times and the Bible with the Rubes, and telling people that Washington was an evil place.  Now we can clearly see that there was more to it than a temporary tactic to get more Republicans in congress. I asked myself at the time, “who benefits from all of this anti-Washington talk?” That’s a favorite of detectives and lawyers. I wasn’t even a lawyer yet, but that question is always a good place to start. Well, who benefited? Now that we can tally up the results, it’s clear that the big corporations and the wealthy received the benefit. That has been the goal all along.

The Icing on the Cake

The 2016 election played out like a sleepwalker on the freeway. A lot of “ooooohs!” and “aaaaaahhhhs! followed by the inevitable impact. After thirty-six years of talking about destroying the power of Washington D.C. as the center of all that was evil in American politics, we, the people, gave the Republicans the power to do just that. Or, more accurately, we have turned the keys to the kingdom over to the financial elites. (“Hello Comcast, yes, Net Neutrality abolished? Coming right up! Would you like a mint with that?”)

There was no secret about what they wanted to do, but people put them in office anyway. Put them in all of the offices, almost. The presidency, both houses of congress, the governorships and legislatures of most of the fifty states. They even walked away with the Supreme Court! I could name several current members of the court who lied like rugs at their confirmation hearings to hide their true intentions, and were allowed to do it by bi-partisan consent. Finally, in an act of breathtaking gall, they gave us “The Year of Eight Justices,” by simply refusing to hold confirmation hearings on President Obama’s nominee for ten months. Ladies and gentlemen, all three branches of government, that’s the hat trick right there.

And what a president we have! You could not imagine a better choice if the goal was to destroy the power and prestige of the Federal government and turn everything but the military over to the large corporations, which stand shoulder to shoulder with the very wealthy. And that’s just what they have done. Yes, and just that quickly!

To offer one example, a corporate shill was installed as the Secretary of State, and immediately all of the Obama appointees were fired. They were not replaced. In the following ten months, talented, dedicated long-term State Department officials have been pushed out by a number of means, including the “Executive Stiletto.” That’s when you take a highly qualified guy and move him into a small office with nothing to do and then wait for him to get bored or angry at being so disrespected and quit. Some high officials were moved into shared offices where they do clerical work on equal footing with a staff of unpaid interns. There’s also a buy-out program to financially incentivize officials to leave. You can go look up what the State Department is responsible for and try to imagine America making its way in the world without a State Department doing those things. That’s what is happening now. We read tales of eerie walks through halls of empty offices. It’s terrifying. Important allies of America are wondering why there is no ambassador and virtually no staff at the American Embassy.

That’s one of the shills, many of the remaining Federal agencies are now headed by stooges. Similar dismantling is going on everywhere. It’s all dangerous in a very immediate way. The business of running the United States is being abandoned in order to free corporate America from constitutional Federal regulation.

And then there is the president himself. An unqualified, disinterested, disagreeable, lazy-minded man. DJT seems to be interested mostly in golf and self-interest, lining his pockets with weekly trips to Trump properties, billing at top-dollar for all of the rooms and food required for his security entourage. Beyond that, he purposely annoys our allies and provokes our adversaries. And I’m not even going to mention the Russian connection. This thing is already ten times the recommended maximum length for a blog post!  

When the inevitable happens, and there is a crisis somewhere, this comedy of errors will quickly become serious. Money will be made, though.

It’s been almost a year now, and can anyone in America point to one instance of anyone in this government doing one thing to actually help average Americans? Why no, they can’t. This is the cast and crew for the last act of American democracy.   

Conclusion

Well, Mr. Blogger, what can be done? For a change, I have actually done some thinking about it.

The solution will not be to suggest a return to any prior condition. The past is gone, and can never be recreated.

Our traditional political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, will be involved in much the same way that they are involved now, which is as dramatic devices upon which to hang the narrative dictated by the new powers that be.

We, as average Americans, still have chips to bargain with. If there is any possibility for good-faith bargaining, we can trade away what is left of our rights in the hope of being granted greater financial, health, and retirement security.

I’ll get working on a suggested plan of action going forward. This post right here should keep actual readers busy for a while. It’s so long that you may want to put it on your Kindle for more convenient reading! Thank you for your patience. There’s no way to unwind what has happened, but if we are careful, we may be able to avoid the New Dark Ages that are just around the corner. I hope for my granddaughter’s sake that we can manage it. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Andre Williams - "The Monkey Speaks His Mind"



Andre "Bacon Fat" Williams shares his opinion on matters of general interest.

Mr. Rhythm has had a long and various career. He started out in the 1950s, and he's still going at the age of eighty-one, because those bills don't pay themselves, you know. He took a few years off in the middle somewhere to practice up on getting loaded, but he got that out of his system and resumed entertaining. His work around 2000 with the Dirtbombs, and a couple of years later with the Dutch band Green Hornet, are fabulous low-fi garage rock classics.

Music is a tough gig, and anyone who can make a living at it deserves our respect and admiration. Andre has always managed to be highly entertaining in the process. So thanks for everything, Andre. I hope you're doing okay.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Mother," John Lennon, And Sincerity



"Mother," by John Lennon. 

The world is full of terrible stories, and they repeat with disturbing frequency. They repeat, although the same story may unwind in thousands of different ways. The same story, now banal, now unhinged, now somewhat comedic, now poignant, now terrifying, now boring, but always new to those who are experiencing it. These are the stories that are our lives.

The story of John Lennon’s early childhood was common enough, featuring parental instability, abandonment, neglect, and who knows what all else. A double abandonment, actually, and that seems to have been the key to the trauma of it. Old Alfie was a merchant seaman, and a guy’s got to make a living, now hasn’t he? He doesn’t seem, in retrospect, to have been a great candidate for successful fatherhood. He was, from the beginning, mostly gone, and finally gone for good. Julia, well, what do we know of her? Impatient? Irresponsible? Selfish? Dilatantish? A bit off-center? Perhaps. At least it’s fair to say that she proved in the end that she had little interest in our Johnny. The final acts of abandonment came when John was five years old, and they came with the kind of great drama that a boy never forgets, not even close to forgets. An aunt and uncle, Mimi and George, took over the parenting duties and seem to have made quite a good go of it. Julia was off on her own somewhere, close enough to visit, but remote enough to be just teasing the idea of having a mom who gave a shit.

This song, “Mother,” is very interesting to me, for two reasons. One reason is personal, and the other one is incidental.

Personally, my story also features a parent suffering from mental instability and a parent who abandoned me. Different facts, different drama, but similarly unsuitable for raising a happy, well-adjusted child. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been too hard on John. I’ve been very hard on him, since the beginning, and it’s only gotten worse over time. Early on I found him to be a snotty, sarcastic brat, an un-entertaining wise-ass who expected to be treated like a genius on little real evidence. Later, as he abandoned his own family and began treating everyone in sight very badly, all the while acting like a know-it-all genius, I took a genuine disliking to him.

Today I’m ready to admit that it’s possible that I should cut John more slack. He lived through his own drama, and it made him the man that he was. That happens to all of us, so maybe it’s best to chalk his bad behavior up to the wide range of normality and be more forgiving.

The “incidental” reason that this song is interesting to me has to do with my main complaint about the Beatles in general. Certainly they were a very good set-up-and-play bar band in their day, and certainly they made some records that were very, very good, but to me there was always something important that was missing. There never seemed to be an ounce of sincerity in any of it, not a whiff. And then, as if by magic, John blossomed into a solo career that evinced sincerity in buckets, with “Mother” being the prime example.

I’ll let the Freudians analyze the reasons why the situation kept everything plastic and coldly commercial while the band was together. Well, to be fair, either coldly commercial or coldly desperate to be cool and modern. It was always either one way or the other, but it was always cold, featuring insincerity that you could not chip away with a sledge and a cold chisel.

Boy, that was almost a kind word for John Lennon. I must be getting old. A very qualified kind word for John, but notice that I’m not there yet regarding the Beatles. I still think that the Beatles are the most overrated band in music history. Sure, they were very good, but OVERRATED by several hundred percent. I still would not trade you Hunky Dory for the entire Beatles catalog. They don’t have an LP in my top-twenty.*

“Mother,” thanks for that, John. I can sing that song about myself. Every word works for me as well as it worked for you. We both suffered for our parents’ sins. I suppose that I should just thank God that I turned out as well as I did, and kindhearted at least. It could have been worse.  


*I admit that I really like the Beatles’ 45 RPM record, “Paperback Writer” b/w “Rain.” 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Negativity Alert!

I make a great effort to delete the negativity from this blog as much as possible. I do this because: 1) it is a public service to the community; and 2) it assists me in steering my internal dialog in more positive directions. Frequently, however, negativity forces its way into our daily lives. When this happens, it may bleed over into Spin Easy Time! I apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause to anyone’s peace of mind.

I am posting this notice now because the holidays have arrived, and I am one of those people on whom the holidays have a pronounced negative effect on mood. This is especially true in light of the shocking events of the last few years, not only in world affairs, but also in my personal life. I may suddenly become morose and/or unreasonable, attack the character of certain people in public office (or out of it), post sad songs with cryptic analyses, or just resort to bitching at the air or the trees about anything or nothing.

I’ll try to keep a lid on it, but don’t be worried if things go south occasionally. I’ll be fine in six weeks or so.

Please do not alert the authorities, as I do not represent a present danger to myself or others.

Happy Holidays! 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Jim Ford - Harlan County



I have no recollection of Jim Ford, as The Hon. Sessions would say. I've Kindled a brief article from the Oxford American about him. Looks like an interesting story, and this is a very nice cut. We'll see what comes of it all. This entire LP is on YouTube.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Old Apartment In College Point

College Point is a neighborhood in the Borough of Queens, part of the City of New York. Most New Yorkers don’t even know about it, nor would they have any reason to. It’s tucked over in its own little blind-spot, between La Guardia Airport and the Whitestone Bridge, on a point of land that juts out into the East River. College Point is the home of my youth; there are really no other candidates for the honor. Both of my parents were raised in College Point, more or less. Both of their families moved to town when they were young, somewhere around the ages of seven or eight. It’s not a particularly nice place, but it has always been very interesting.

My parents got married in the St. Fidelis Church in College Point in 1942. My father was already working at what turned out to be his only job after college. He worked for that company until he retired at age sixty-seven. He was 4F due to a major dose of childhood arthritis that left him almost handicapped. They moved around a bit during and after the war for his job, and when I was born they were living in Rosedale, also in the Borough of Queens, adjacent to what was then called Idlewild Airport (now JFK).

We moved back to College Point in the spring or summer of 1949, around my first birthday. The apartment was in a two family house on (redacted) Street, just south of 12th Avenue. We had the upstairs apartment. The landlords lived downstairs. They were the parents of a childhood girlfriend of my mom’s. The building was on the old side, but not as old as many in the town. The layout of the rooms and the fittings of the house were old fashioned. It was heated by the burning of coal in a boiler in the basement, the heat rising as steam and warming the house through radiators. There were three bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, and a living room, plus a small room at the front that had windows on three sides and a large archway to the living room on the other side. Would that be a porch? Maybe a day-room? I don’t know what you’d call it today. It was treated as an extension of the living room. The kitchen had no cabinets at all. The large sink was attached to the wall and fringed with a curtain-like arrangement that reached the floor. All storage was in a doorless walk-in pantry.

We lived there until the summer of my tenth birthday, 1958, when we moved to a single-family house around the corner. I lived in that house until I got married in 1969, at which time my new wife and I moved into the upstairs apartment of a two-family house on (redacted) Street in College Point that was similar in some ways to the old apartment, “day-room” and all.

At that point I became nostalgic for that old apartment. It had only been eleven or twelve years since I had lived there, but childhood memory is a tricky thing. There were things that I could not remember, and things that I could not believe were true. And a lot had changed in that time; there had been a lot of building going on. I don’t know where I got the gall, but I decided to go back to that old house and just ring the bell, just like that, and ask to look around. I have a pleasant smile, and I am very personable and polite, but to be on the safe side I took my wife with me. The theory was that beautiful women open all doors, and this was no exception.

We just showed up on the doorstep one day and rang the bell. A cheerful young housewife opened the door. She was probably in her late twenties at the oldest, but my wife and I were so young that she seemed older. I explained that I had spent much of my childhood in that apartment, and announced my wish to take a look at it with fresh eyes, if that was alright with her. She was amenable and led us up the stairs without a second thought.

My first impression was that the place was much, much smaller than I remembered. It was all very nice, and it was furnished in much the same manner as it had been furnished by my parents, but the rooms all seemed so tiny. There didn’t appear to be any space that was not actually occupied by furniture. The building, it turned out, had a smaller footprint than the one that we currently occupied, and our new apartment had only two bedrooms, not three, all of which necessarily made the old apartment’s rooms smaller. In truth, it looked much nicer than it had in my time. The kitchen had been remodeled, so it all had a modern look to it. There was no longer a tiny, ancient refrigerator, no more sink better suited to a basement than a kitchen. Rather nicer furniture, too, except that my parents did have a nice maple dining room set from Ethan Allen. The view into and past the back yard was full of new houses, but I had watched them being built, so it was no surprise. The old tree was back there, and the driveway had been paved in the meantime. The boiler was now a new model burning oil, so the whole premises smelled better and cleaner, and actually was a lot cleaner, without all of the coal dust.

I was sure not to overstay our welcome, and I thanked the young woman effusively. She seemed to have gotten a kick out of the whole thing, and if I recall she did have the right to be proud of the home that she presented to strangers. It was immaculate, as though she had been expecting company. I have no idea what her name was, and I’m not sure that I ever did.

The things of our childhood all seem smaller than they were, if you think about it. It’s like the snow. There was a time when I seriously wondered why there was not as much snow as there had been long before. Then I realized, not quickly though, that of course it seems like more snow if you are a six-year-old with short little legs. Walking through a similar snowfall at a height of five feet, nine inches, it doesn’t seem like much snow at all. It was the same with the apartment. I ran through those rooms between the ages of one and ten, and they had seemed big to me at the time. Seeing the apartment again made me feel that a lot of time had gone by, and that a great deal had changed, but that was only the beginning.

By now I have the changes of a lifetime to look back on, and it’s been a lifetime of experiences covering many decades and spanning three continents. It’s all amazing, really, recalling the people, the events, the languages, and the vast catalog of things. I think that at some point I believed in the importance of some of it, but now I'm not so sure. Life for most people never really comes into focus, but some things do become clearer. It’s like Anne Frank said, “how sad it is that everything that we have learned, and done, all comes to nothing in the end.”  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Rolling Stones - Far Away Eyes - OFFICIAL PROMO



That Ron Wood fellow, love him as part of the 'Stones or don't, you must admit that the man is versatile.

Ron's original band was an also ran in the very beginning called the Birds. He played bass in the post-Yardbirds Jeff Beck Group, showed up with Rod Stewart in the post-Steve Marriott (Small) Faces, and then landed the journeyman's dream gig as a member of the Rolling Stones. Varied career, versatile player, and still on his feet, breathing, Ron Wood, I salute you!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Kooks Raising Kids, Hunky Dory Edition




Before 1972 I knew essentially nothing about David Bowie. I knew of his existence, but only through reading Rave magazine and the Melody Maker newspaper in the mid- to late-1960s. I’d seen photographs, in other words, and read short pieces about this oddball, fringe presence on the British rock scene, a guy whose hair was impossibly long and who was liable to show up in a dress. I confess that my attitude was that he was just another poser, desperate for attention, and if he were good, we’d have heard his stuff already.

Bear in mind that I was not a member of the He-Man Woman Haters club, so the dress thing and the hair wouldn’t bother me. I’d probably have liked his music as well. In those days, it was hard to get enough information on which to base an opinion about someone like David Bowie. I was just a kid from Queens; I had no connections and little money. I had no friends who had Bowie records, even after some were available. There was already a long list of records that I wanted, and I was lucky that I could afford to buy as many of them as I did.

Then, in late 1972, RCA America re-released Space Oddity, and the single really took off on a wide spectrum of radio stations. Being able to connect some product with the photos that I had seen was a pleasant surprise. I loved the song.

I purchased the Space Oddity album, and I was knocked out by the scope of the lyrics and the production. I did something that I had never done before: I returned to the record store the next day and purchased copies of the three additional Bowie LPs in stock, Hunkey Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and the Man Who Sold the World. I think that I played all four of them every day for a month.

I was particularly impressed with the subtle differences in approach for each of the four LPs, and Hunky Dory made a particularly good impression on me. “Kooks” was a big favorite. My wife and I were in our early twenties. We had been married for three years, and we were the proud, if slightly confused parents of a two year old son. Bowie had recently been dealing with the same child and future related issues at whose mercy we then found ourselves. We found the song to be a very positive message, and encouraging. “Changes” was in the same vein, for us at least.

I have not kept up with Zowie’s life experience, but I do hope that he had a relatively positive experience growing up in a slightly kooky family. My own son seems to have survived his also slightly off-center upbringing largely intact. My son is doing well at this point, and I hope Zowie is as well. (I know that the name was changed at some point, but I don't recall the new name. I could check the whole story, of course, but you never know what you will find. I prefer right now to leave this in the realm of hopes and best wishes.)

David Bowie turned out to be, musically speaking, the gift that kept on giving. His last gift was wrapped and under the tree when he slipped this mortal coil. I do not believe that it is possible to rest in other than perfect peace after dying, so I will forgo those pleasantries. I will, instead, say that I hope that it is a comfort to the family that Bowie left behind that he is remembered so fondly by so many of the people whose lives he touched in meaningful ways with his music and his manners. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Random Sentence

I came across this sentence in a notebook today. The pages were all recent, but “I have no current recollection” of any context for the sentence. (As Confederate Confederate Sessions would say.) I remember writing it for some future use at Dunkin Donuts while I was waiting for a friend. I have no idea what “future use” I had in mind, if any.

Here it is:

“With all sphincters clenched at the audacity of what he had just said out loud, the interviewee appeared to hold his breath until he was sure that he was not about to be arrested.”

Now that I have it, what can I do with it?


It’s a beauty, isn’t it? 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Look at Little Sister



Hank Ballard and the Midnighters were great. I'm sure that you recall that Hank released the original version of the twist before Chubby Checker had the hit with it. Stole Hank's whole singing style too! Hook, line, sinker and pole! I used to be upset about it.

I was listening to a "best of" up on the YouTube today, shamefully low hit count for such a great compilation by such a great act. And no commercials! I had an epiphany of sorts.

The Twist was a hit very close to the time when it was routine industry procedure to steal a good song from a black man and release a cover version by a white artist who got the hit. Think Pat Boone. Well maybe it was progress that Hank had the twist stolen, not by a white man, but by A LESS THREATENING BLACK MAN. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that was progress.

Hank could be abrasive. As late as 1988, he cut a promo for my favorite radio show on KCRW, the NPR station out of Santa Monica College. (Corsair Radio West!) "On Saturday night," said Hank, "listen to the Cool and the Crazy, on KCRW, or Hank Ballard will break your fingers." There wasn't too much lighthearted about his tone, either.

It was probably white people who decided to give the hit to Chubby, so I guess I won't get too worked up about the progress part.

DANNY GATTON mistery train thats allright mama my baby left me



The subject of Danny Gatton came up yesterday on Facebook.  A "Memory" from three years ago, a post by me of a nice cut of a Marshall Crenshaw song, "Someday, Someway," featuring Robert Gordon and Danny Gatton. The link still worked, and Danny always makes me smile.

Looking around today I found this video. When Danny really got rolling, I was just sitting here laughing. Man, is that even legal? "We've got a new record out on Electra," says Danny by way of introduction. "Been trying for about fifty years to get a record deal, and we finally made it." Of course it finally got to Danny in the end, the lack of recognition. He was one of those guys that would much rather be working on a car, alone, than getting out, meeting people, and getting famous.

Chalk it up to depression. Another brother gone too soon, with so much to give.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Public Service Announcement Re: Doom

Within five years, I’m expecting two things to happen:

1.   My ungrateful government will stop paying me Social Security retirement benefits unless I can prove that I lived for at least three or four months in the U.S. during the previous calendar year; and
2.   My inept government will destroy the value of the dollar by allowing it to lose its place as the world’s reserve currency and the currency in which oil is valued for sale.

I hope that I’m wrong, but there is every reason to believe that both of these things will come to pass in that time frame.

This is just two of the things that will affect me. I own neither stocks nor bonds, and I no longer own any real estate within the United States. If you own any of those things, you have more to worry about than I do. Also, the total amount that I owe to all sources is under twenty dollars, which is the total of my Amazon book purchases for last month. I’ll be paying that off any day now. If you are carrying more debt than me, and virtually everyone in the country is, then you have more cause for worry on that score as well.

Number one is becoming more important ever year to the pirates currently running our country. Many Americans, and I’m one of them, can no longer afford to live in the U.S. The number of Americans living overseas will soon exceed ten million people, and many of that number receive Social Security benefits. As soon as the payments to people not living in America reach an amount worth stealing, they will be stolen.

Number two may happen by means of: 1) an accident that is beyond anyone’s control; 2) some misadventure due to the foolishness of our government officials; or 3) the machinations of other players in our new multi-polar “superpower” world. In order to avoid this disastrous result, we would need a fully staffed and vigorous State Department, a fully staffed and well-led foreign intelligence apparatus, and a Treasury Department that knew its ass from a hot rock. We have none of those things, and please note that there are three possible ways for thing number two to happen, so the odds that it will happen are very favorable. If I could get odds like that in Vegas, I’d be there now.

My job now is to prepare for this inevitable double disaster. It’s my second job, I guess, because I still have an actual day-job, which I will keep as long as I can walk and talk (or as long as my benefactor-employer lets me). I have a couple of ideas, and I am not without resources. I should be fine. My heart goes out to those Americans living overseas who will have no adequate response to these shocks. Many Americans that I have met here in Thailand will have no way to survive without their Social Security, even if they have some money in the bank (minus the one-third to one-half that the crash of the dollar will destroy). Many of them, if they return to America to get the Social Security, will have no one left of family or friends to offer assistance. They will have no way to even get set up in a place to live, much less pay all of the huge monthly expenses associated with living in the U.S. Their existence will be rough, and no one in America is in the offering-help business anymore.

A sincere “good luck” also to people living in trailer-parks in Sunbelt states who rely on Social Security and savings to make ends meet. The crash of the dollar will reduce the spending power of both things.

Look ahead, my fellow Americans . . . smell the coffee . . . see which way the wind is blowing . . . read those tea leaves. Don’t believe everything that you read, including this blog post. Go see for yourselves, and then do what you can to prepare. Recall that the week before the Wall Street crash of 1929 all of the papers were unanimously saying that the bull market of the 1920s had a long way to run before slowing down. That was days before the whole thing charged over a cliff into oblivion, taking the American economy with it. It’s probably a good bet to assume that everyone is lying to you. Everyone except me, of course. I might be wrong from time to time, but I’d never lie to you.

I’m no financial expert, nor do I have a Crystal Ball, but I’m pretty comfortable predicting the above mentioned two things. If I’m just exercising an overabundance of caution, might not you wish to do the same? 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Wayne Bennett+Rosco Gordon -- Hello Baby



Wayne Bennett is a favorite of mine. He appeared on a ton of records as a unbilled studio musician; his star turn is definitely the great Bobby "Blue" Bland album, "Two Steps from the Blues." I've posted "Little Boy Blue" from that LP more than once.

I'll stop now, and I promise that tomorrow I'll write another load of paranoid rubbish for your entertainment. Or maybe the next day. I don't handle pressure well.

Jimmy Bryant - The Night Rider from out of print Country Cabin Jazz LP



Friends and neighbors, Mr. Jimmy Bryant! A guy who could "go way up, and stay there," as Wes Montgomery used to say. Working here, as he often did, with Speedy West on the steel guitar.

The early career of Roy Clark featured several covers of songs that Jimmy Bryant was known to play, so it's safe to say that Jimmy was one of Roy's heroes. Which is not surprising, because Jimmy becomes one of the heroes of every guitar player that hears him. Touch, tone, accuracy, imagination, emotionality, and close adherence to the musical idea. If Jimmy Bryant had been half as disciplined in his lifestyle as he was in his playing, he'd still be alive (and 92 years old).

Glen Campbell & Roy Clark Play 'Ghost Riders in the Sky'



I know that many of you out there like the music end of this blog, so today I'll spare you the Sturm und Drang of my overheated imagination.

It's good to remember that there was a lot of fine guitar playing going on beyond the worlds of rock, blues and jazz. Here are two very talented, supernaturally disciplined players from the Country world. Which reminds me, there's a guy that you may not be as familiar with . . .

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Motörhead "Heroes" (David Bowie Cover)



Motorhead's version of "Enter Sandman" is one of my favorite covers. They totally cut Metallica. I usually don't care for the "who's better?" game, but Metallica are such pains in the ass that I'll make an exception.

I think this cover is also very successful. Happily, there's a whole CD of Motorhead covers coming out "soon." It's called Under Cover, I'm pretty sure.

RIP Lemmy.

Jimmy Cliff - Vietnam



Happy Memorial Day to my vet friends out there.

Who's Driving This Train?

I’m afraid that the answer is: Nobody.

In my first, doomed attempt at higher education, I had a spectacular professor for my first ever Art History class (a survey class). His name doesn’t Google anymore (it never has), so I’ll go ahead and say that his name was Sterling Callison. He was already as old as the hills at the time, and he was a funny, charming man, highly intelligent and thoroughly interesting 100% of the time. He had a theory about the world:

“I have come to believe that the world is secretly run by an unknown group of men working in an underground bunker in Beirut, Lebanon.”

We laughed, and Professor Callison was kidding, but I, at least, wondered if there could actually be any guiding hands running the world in secret. It almost makes sense that there would be, because, well, isn’t the world too big and important an enterprise to be left to chance? This was the mid-1960s, so there was daily chaos around the world and a lot of horrific chaos in recent history, but who is to say that the forces that were planning everything did not prefer chaos to order? After all, don’t people make more demands on their rulers in good times than they do in bad? Why yes, they do. In bad times, people just want the explosions and the gunfire and the starvation and the disease to end. So maybe, I thought, it’s true that there is a secret cabal running things.

On a smaller scale, I have spent the years from Reagan onward believing that there was an organizational structure hidden in our government the purpose of which was to provide continuity to matters of United States policy and protect us from excesses of individuality. Maybe it was too great a challenge to run the entire world but certainly the government of any one nation could be managed by a large, secret bureaucracy from beyond the vagaries of democratic elections. I have quite the dramatic flair, so I usually referred to it as the “shadow government” or the “permanent” something or other. I’ve mentioned it in numerous blog posts. How could the future of the country be allowed to float willy-nilly down so unpredictable a stream as the American culture in general or the electoral process in particular? It only made sense to me that there should be a powerful group that was not affected by elections that could guide the country forward.

Of course, I’m such a pessimist that I was sure that this group was krypto-fascist and anti-democratic. Even that was somehow comforting. A Capitalist, consumerist society requires a citizenry with jobs and spending money to prop it up. My thinking was that they would always need a prosperous middle class and a large working class to keep the wheels turning. Their need to keep us buying things would protect us from the worst abuses and force the system to maintain our relative prosperity. They needed the taxes that we paid, too. There were so many of us that the taxes really added up.

I can see now that this was an effort on my part to find a force for order in the world where none actually exists. The idea that the entire world just stumbles forward decade by decade with no hand, steady or otherwise, on the ship’s wheel is extremely disturbing. But after the events of the past year, I am afraid that that is the truth of the matter. No one is in charge; no one guides human society; there are no forces of order, benevolent or otherwise, to save us. There is nothing standing between us and the rampant greed and pride and hubris of individual humans who haven’t got a single thought about anything but their own wealth and power.

The best metaphor for our human condition is the astronomical situation of the earth itself: it is spinning wildly off into the distance at a dangerous rate of speed with no thought to our safety.

The election of Donald Trump makes it clear that there is no behind-the-scenes authority that can control our elected officials. Honestly, I was surprised that Trump lived to attend his inauguration. But here we are, one year after his election. His program of destroying the Federal government is moving along rapidly and successfully. The State Department, the DOJ, Energy, the EPA, Education, the Department of the Interior, Health and Human Services, all of these are already in such a depleted condition that it will take years to rehabilitate them. Many talented long-term civil servants have left for jobs in the private sector, and many uniquely talented appointees have been summarily dismissed without a care as to whether there was anyone to replace them. In State, especially, it appears that the plan is to simply empty the building and let it all go undone. So no, I no longer think that there is anyone behind the scenes striving to keep the country on an even keel.

It appears that chaos is, indeed, the goal. Our elected politicians seem to be leading a charge away from order and security. The people in charge are going in this direction all over the world. Maybe the human population has reached some kind of critical mass. Perhaps there are enough of us now that there is no longer a need for a semi-prosperous consumer class. We all need some things, and we will all find ways to buy some other things that we want. The rake-off from this huge till is enough already to make a few thousand families vastly wealthy. So no, the powerful no longer need us to do anything but struggle to remain alive, which humans can be expected to do on their own.

If the major money, the Davos-Bilderberg Axis, and the biggest corporations, are all expecting to profit from disorder, they’ll certainly get all of the help that they need from willing stooges, and at bargain prices, too. All of the political parties appear to be complicit in an effort to cause every molecule of American culture to bounce with violent energy, while democracy is being dismantled and people’s security is being destroyed.  It’s not only the Republicans, it’s all of our elected politicians, and increasingly the forces for negativity include almost all of their appointees. All of them are controlled through a complex web of financial interaction by the real money, whatever you chose to call them. Ordinary citizens, simple members of American society, join in the effort by concentrating their attentions on distractions real or imagined that may or may not have anything to do with politics, except the politics of dividing people into opposing classes by race, age, religion, region, education, sex, or just any old damn thing at all.

This is where I usually wind up for a big finish that sounds like one of those guys that I remember standing on street corners around Wall Street long ago, either wearing sandwich boards or just waving a Bible in the air, preaching the message: SOON, A CLEANSING!!! Forgive me, but I hardly have the energy anymore, and besides that I’m getting over a mild cold.

I’m also over the desire to try to rouse the rabble to vote, or get involved, or give a shit. It’s too late. Isn’t it so cute, and quaint, that people got excited the other day when the Democrats did surprisingly well in a bunch of local elections? A lovely transgender person in Virginia won a contest with a Republican who had sponsored an anti-transgender bathroom bill. A black African immigrant from Liberia became a small city mayor in Minnesota, or one of those flat, cold states anyway. This is all very nice, but where would it be going? Let’s say that next year and in 2020 all of the elections go to the Democrats and the Republicans become an endangered species, what would that signify? It would only mean that we’d have another Clinton or Obama to supervise the destruction of our rights, our Constitution, our prosperity, and our security (health; retirement; income; etc.), and another Democratic congress to do what their donors tell them to do. We might be about 3.5% (three-point-five-percent) better off with Democrats in charge. That is nowhere near enough to make a difference.


I guess that I managed a pretty good pot of doom there in spite of myself! I’m not surprised. Doom is my business, my only business. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Al Green - Driving Wheel (Official Audio)



My personal favorite version. From my personal favorite Al Green album.

This is the "Official Video," so some big company is involved. I hope they're not angry at me for sharing it, I don't mean any harm. I wouldn't want to be arrested at the airport for piracy the next time I go back to the 'States. Maybe one of yez could buy the LP or something, get me off the hook.

Little Junior Parker / Driving Wheel



Driving Wheel, by the ever entertaining Junior Parker and a very, very talented band.

The comments are respectful for a change, with none of the "which version is the best" crapola. Funny too, as usual. Junior Parker was Al Green's cousin? (Maybe.) The guitar player is Clarence Holliman? Or, the guitar player is Pat Hare, but then a sub-comment says no, that's impossible, Pat Hare was already in prison for murder. (I hate to quote YouTube comments, because of the second-hand slander.) The guitarist is Wayne Bennett? (I'm leaning in this direction. I love Wayne, and although his style is never as easy to peg as, let's say, one of the King boys, this sounds like it could be his work.)

Great cover!

Driving Wheel Blues - Roosevelt Sykes (The Honey Dripper) (Decca)



I've known that there were a lot of versions of this song, but I never realized that the song was this old. Is that 1936? The proof of a good song is the covers, and there are multiple killer versions of this song out there.

Mr. Roosevelt Sykes, aka the Honey Dripper, my hat is off to you. Great song; great vocal. (Did he play the piano as well? I should look that up.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Let's Shake On It!

The simple handshake is a standard greeting in American culture, derived from a European practice that goes back at least to ancient Greece. I say, “simple,” but the act of shaking hands is often not simple at all.

I have always been fascinated by the secret handshakes by which members of various sub rosa societies may recognize one another. I worked with a man in the early 1980s who was a Mason of a fairly high order of magnitude. He was a member of one of the more serious-minded and tradition based historical Masonic orders, as opposed to the more common “masonic lodges,” which should more properly be called drinking clubs. This man was a fine poster-child for freemasonry, embodying all of its better characteristics. He told me of a time when he visited Australia with a group of manufacturing engineers on some kind of work related trip. Upon landing, they were met at the airport by several men from the Australian company that they would be working with. Shaking hands all around, he was alerted to the fact that one of the Australians was a fellow Mason. Later on that evening, they exchanged the coded secret words to insure that the handshake had not been a coincidence. Thereafter, they were bound to assist each other as brothers. Fascinating.

Perhaps it’s better to say that shaking hands is never really as simple as the nature of the act implies. A handshake always betrays personal information, and we are always judged by the nature and quality of our handshake. Along with a reading of facial expressions, there is a lot that may be learned in a short time. Fear may be noticed in a fight-or-flight response. Aggression and sociability are frequently displayed. Real affection is possible. But if you are not lucky, some men will attempt to dominate you with their handshake.

Yes, I’m winding this around to Donald Trump, as so often happens on this blog. I’ll get to that in a moment.

There are the bone crushers, a disturbingly large group with many sub-categories. Some are just glad-hands who don’t know their own strength. Of these, there are many that you can educate. I attended law school with a big, strong young Texan from a farm/oil community in West Texas. He could turn coal into diamonds with his hands, and evidently a powerful handshake was the norm in his milieu growing up. When I explained to him that he was killing me, he was genuinely grateful to hear it, and he modified his handshake permanently so as not to cause further offense. He thanked me again a few years later, because he had been glad to go forth into the legal community with a socially acceptable handshake, and not have to learn the hard way.

Others of this type do know their own strength, and they enjoy using it on every man that they meet. You can tell them that you have a bit of arthritis, so please take it easy, but they think that’s funny somehow and go on hurting you.

HELPFUL TIP: if you know, or suspect, that a man that you are about to shake hands with is a bone-crusher, seize his hand powerfully by the fingers before he has a chance to get his death-grip on you. Unless he is a trained martial artist, he will be helpless.

Then there are the guys who hold on tight and never let go. Now we’re moving on to Donald Trump territory.

By now there is a visual record of hundreds of Trump handshakes from the last two years, and it is disturbing. Trump is a dominator; man, woman, boy, or girl, he will try his best to dominate and frighten you with his wrestling-like handshake maneuvers. First he jerks your hand towards his right side so hard that you almost bump into his ample waistline. Then he pushes back and forth like a baseball umpire calling strikes. Then he turns his hand palm up, squeezing and jerking your hand the entire time. Often this procedure seems to go on forever. Mr. Abe of Japan was obviously confused and embarrassed by this kind of rough handling. Mr. Macron of France seemed almost amused, and attempted to turn the tables on Trump the next time they met. I’ll wager that there are many in the diplomatic community who have resolved never to shake hands with Trump again, and it is a certainty that Trump’s handshake is a popular topic of diplomatic conversation.

Yes, our unfortunate president treats everyone he meets as though they were air-conditioning contractors from Philadelphia. His attempt to dominate them with his handshake is part of his intention to bully them and cheat them. The effort begins immediately with the first handshake.

This is symptomatic of a larger problem with Trump. He seems to crave the approval of certain classes of people, such as the high society types in New York, Washington politicians, and the Hollywood upper crust. He almost seems to wish that people in general liked him. And yet he himself does not seem to like anyone, much less love anyone.

His children are virtual strangers to him; he famously ignored them all until they were university age. After that, the children of his first marriage seem to have gotten some attention from him, but the nature and extent of that attention is a matter for specialists, and I will not express an opinion. Poor Tiffany seems to have been born on the shit-list. She has always been, and remains, a non-entity. Trump ignores Barron whenever they appear together.  Regarding children in general, Trump seems ill at ease. At this year’s Halloween gathering at the White House, Trump reached out and touched their little hands gingerly, as though he were afraid to catch an infection.

Of his ex-wives, he seems to get along with Ivana in some shallow way. Marla Maples, on the other hand, fled after their brief marriage to California and has not been seen or heard from since. That’s Tiffany’s mom. They share a life in the shadows. There’s a story there, but we will not hear it during Donald’s lifetime. Marla wrote a book for a major publisher about ten years ago, but publication was mysteriously cancelled “by mutual decision” at the last minute. Melania seems by turns pleased with the attention that she’s getting and annoyed to be in a room with Trump. Luckily for her, she maintains what for her and Trump passes for good looks, that medically enhanced, mega-statuesque quality that exists in relation to the truly beautiful as donuts exist in relation to the truly delicious. I can’t imagine that they talk together that much. She has future-ex-wife written all over her.

Of his friends, well, Trump does not appear to have any friends. In fact, he does not appear ever to have had any friends at all. There are no old friends from Jamaica; no old school chums from Fordham or Wharton. It’s possible that Trump’s only friend in history was his mentor, Roy Cohn. How sad would that be?

It is often said that Trump loves only himself, but my hunch is that the opposite is true. He hates everybody, including himself.

Oh, woe is the country that finishes its brief existence in the spotlight with a misanthrope like this for a president. Politicians and other paid professional optimists will say that America remains the Shining City on the Hill, and that it will take more than Donald Trump to bring us low! That’s what they get paid to say. But if we are being honest, we will admit that the arc our greatness turned downwards about thirty years ago, and Trump’s presidency is only steepening the decline. There’s time left, so enjoy it while you can. Don’t spend down your savings just yet, but diversifying your holdings might be a good idea. Think about including domestic and foreign property, precious metals and stones (with physical possession), and a basket of the more reliable foreign currencies.  I no longer trust our politicians with the fate of the dollar, stocks, or bonds. If you have no holdings to diversify, and especially if you are over forty-five years old, might I suggest learning woodcraft, hunting, and gathering.

And if you somehow get stuck meeting the Donald, don’t shake his hand. Use any excuse, tell him you have the flu, tell him you just jerked off a dog, spit in your hand, anything. You’ll thank me after you watch him yanking the other suckers around the room.  

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The 2017 World Series In A Nutshell



I missed the entire World Series this year. No more cable TV for me. That thing is too expensive, and most of the bill every month goes to ESPN, or Fox Sports, as it is called in Asia. I liked the baseball a lot, and I enjoyed the basketball playoffs, and even the big tennis events, but being a little careful with money is always a good idea.

This highlight reel is interesting for many reasons, like:

1)   Did they juice the ball this year? Or was it just for the series? That pill was jumping off of those bats big time. A couple of those homers were hit with inside-out swings and contact at strange angles, but they still flew over the fence with authority. Someone should check that.

2)   Nice to see so many religious Muslims in the big leagues. Or are they Jews? Whatever they are, there are a lot of genuine Biblical beards out there in uniform. (But I’ve been out of the loop for a while. Maybe they’re just Duck Dynasty fans, or actual hillbillies.)

3)   There seems to be a lot more celebratory dancing, and the handshakes are way more elaborate than I remember. The general level of exaltation seems to have risen. It’s bordering on poor sportsmanship, or maybe it has stepped over that line already.

I would have watched the games, if I could have. But really, I don’t miss having to listen to Vin Scully, that dual master of the non-sequitur and false modesty. And there’s a chance that I might have passed on the opportunity anyway, because I totally hate the Astros. Are they still the Houston Astros? Or are they the Texas Astros now? Or maybe the "World Famous Astros?" I was surprised to discover that they are currently in the American League, that’s how far removed I am from the cultural reality of day-to-day America.

They came into the National League as an expansion team called the Houston Colt .45s, along with the New York Mets, and by having early mediocre seasons while the Mets were performing terribly they thought that they were thereby very hot stuff. They were downright obnoxious about being better than the Mets. Then after seven years in the bigs the Mets won the World Series. That kind of shut them up, I believe that they were already the Astros by then. I notice that they’ve had to wait until this year to win a World Series. Well don’t choke on the champagne, boys. I hope that you learned something about humility from that Mets episode.

It occurs to me that generosity of spirit is always a good thing, so I’ll just say that it was a good, hard fought series right up to the end. Congratulations, everybody! You looked good out there, weird-ass beards and all. Have a nice off-season, and we’ll see you in April.