Wednesday, July 18, 2018

'Music In a Doll's House' - Fifty Years

The 1968 debut album from the British rock band Family, released fifty years ago this week (the exact anniversary date is July 19), Music In a Doll's House, isn't necessarily the best debut rock album of all time, but it is definitely in contention for the best debut rock album if 1968 - and the fact that it gets serious competition from Fairport Convention's self-titled debut and the Band's Music From Big Pink (the title is a reference to another tiny abode, the little pink house in upstate New York that the Band rehearsed in with Bob Dylan) means that even that distinction is not assured.  But in terms of innovation, imagination, and sheer chutzpah, Music In a Doll's House clearly has the edge.  Fairport Convention and the Band both aimed their music toward more traditional folk and pop form, while Family set out to create a new sound altogether.  And although it was recorded in the heady days of post-Sgt. Pepper psychedelia, Music In a Doll's House went beyond mere trendiness. Family incorporated all sorts of forms, from standard balladeering and blue-eyed soul to heavy rock and avant-garde experimentation, into their music.
While many rock acts, including the Beatles themselves, answered Sgt. Pepper with a return to basics, and various bands who were more adventurous were in a quandary in trying to push rock music farther, Family set a course that honored tradition while being open to new ideas.  Ironically, their mindset restricted them to a cult following; they had qualified commercial success in Britain and continental Europe and no such success whatsoever in North America.  Leaders Charlie Whitney and Roger Chapman refused to compromise their vision, and their unique approach restricted Family's appeal.  But they set a standard with Music In a Doll's House that remained resolute with each subsequent album they recorded, the music changing with each LP but still retaining a distinctive Family identity.  That identity was what made this LP and all six of their subsequent albums so essential to Family's fan base.           
Music In a Doll's House was, in some ways, a vision of what rock could be as the sixties were coming to an end.  Eventually rock stopped going forward, the roots-oriented sound of groups like the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival homogenized into a standard country-rock sound, hard rock and heavy metal played themselves out, and progressive rock become innovative for the sake of innovation but rarely produced anything lasting.  Punk and grunge only bought rock a little more time as other pop forms gained on and overtook it.  But in 1968, Family found a way forward that kept them grounded in rock and R&B but allowed them to innovate, and they carried that ideal through their recording career (and many personnel changes) to the point where they felt they could go no farther, wisely calling it quits in 1973 as their well began to run dry.  Music In a Doll's House is an important debut album because it showed how the promise of musical progression could be achieved . . . and was.  That message resonates fifty years on.
This blog entry is not so much a proper review of Music In a Doll's House as it is a celebration of it as I mark its golden anniversary.  For a more detailed review, please consult my Family review page. :-)     

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

'Yellow Submarine' - Fifty Years

Fifty years ago today, July 17, 1968, the animated Beatles movie Yellow Submarine premiered in London.
Yellow Submarine is regarded as one of the greatest animated movies of all time, using all sorts of innovative sequences and caricatures with a vivid array of colors.  It's a cinematic expression of the psychedelic art of the late sixties that many aging hippies believe is a perfect approximation of an acid trip, yet it was sweet and palatable enough for children.  The storyline takes the cartoon Beatles on a trip through the deep seas to Pepperland, an unearthly paradise of music, love, and happiness, to save it from the Blue Meanies, who have taken it over and eliminated love, music, and everything positive.  The story uses music from no fewer than sixteen Beatles songs (including four songs recorded for the movie), yet the plot holds together quite nicely, with all sorts of visual surprises and delights throughout.
Amazingly, Yellow Submarine was made almost by accident.  The movie was an extension of the old animated Beatles cartoon series that ran in the U.S., which involved American producer Al Brodax and Canadian animator George Dunning.  When the Beatles couldn't agree on a script for the third movie they owed United Artists (after A Hard Day's Night and Help!), they reluctantly agreed to a cartoon movie (which Brodax would produce and Dunning would direct), but having seen the TV cartoons and found them embarrassing - which is why they weren't shown in Britain - they didn't want to be deeply involved with the film.  They would only film a brief appearance for the end..  
Then they saw the final cut with German poster artist Heinz Edelmann's incredible art work and with some snappy, cheeky dialogue overseen by Liverpool poet Roger McGough, and they instantly realized that this movie was not going to be just another cartoon feature. In fact, it would draw comparisons to Walt Disney's 1940 movie Fantasia for its artistry.
But here's the funny thing; Yellow Submarine was originally a flop.
The movie received a wide opening in British theaters on the heels of its world premiere in London, but it was pulled after only a few weeks and mixed, somewhat ho-hum reviews.  It was replaced by one British movie chain with a re-release of Disney's Peter Pan, because, according to a chain representative, "at least the children could understand that!"  Yellow Submarine's American release had been put off until November 1968, and United Artists executives might have been worried about what the stateside response would be like; after all, Magical Mystery Tour, the Beatles' previous film endeavor, was so poorly received in Britain that, after its TV airing there, no American television network would even touch it.
If they did worry, they needn't have; when Yellow Submarine premiered in the United States on November 13, 1968, it received nearly unanimous raves from movie critics and was a box-office smash.  It was sch a huge hit it was playing in American theaters as late as September 1969.  Why was it a big success in the United States?  Think about it.  By Thanksgiving 1968, Americans had gone through watching some of the worst fighting in the Vietnam War on TV news, seen Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated followed by urban rioting as least as fierce as the Newark and Detroit riots of 1967, seen Robert Kennedy assassinated, witnessed antiwar demonstrations turn to rioting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and awoken the day after the presidential election to discover that Richard Nixon would be their new President.  Yellow Submarine provided a hopeful tale of how love, music and harmony would prevail against Blue Meanies like Richard Nixon and George Wallace.  It was a fantasy, but a beautiful fantasy Americans could relate to (and, in the Age of Trump, still can).
Yellow Submarine is currently being screened in theaters in different towns in America for its fiftieth anniversary release. Yes, I just saw it - first time I've seen in on the big screen.  And I watch it every Thanksgiving on home video - I've done so since 2000.  And because there's so much to say about Yellow Submarine - too much to say in one blog post - expect me to return to the subject of this movie between now and the fiftieth anniversary of its American premiere this November.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Vive La France!

France . . . World Cup champions.
Croatia . . . Better luck next time.
But hey, you got farther than people thought you would be beating England, and that second goal you scored in the final was amazing.
And to the American team, which never even made the 2018 tournament . . .
Yo, could I see you clowns in my office??? >:-( 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Idiot Abroad

Donald Trump always brags about he big crowds he attracts.  Well, by the criterion of bringing out his detractors, his European trip has been a bug success.
I will give Trump credit for his handling of American allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as he has successfully re-affirmed the NATO alliance in a statement guaranteeing active American participation in the treaty despite his earlier threats to pull out of it.  Wait!  Correction: That was a bipartisan resolution that passed the Senate before he even made it to Brussels.  But his classiest coup was getting the European allies to agree to increase defense spending.  Oops!  Correction: They agreed to do that in 2006.  And his attempt to involved himself in British politics over who should be prime minister and handle the British withdrawal from the European Union only serves to remind us why so many Britons publicly supported Hillary for President in 2016. 
And then, with European politics in turmoil as a result of his doing, Trump went off to Scotland to play golf. Because he doesn't know how to play the fiddle.
In between insulting Queen Elizabeth II - something even Martin O'Malley, an Irish Catholic, wouldn't have done - and criticizing the abilities of European leaders with two X chromosomes (May, Merkel), Trump has managed to have a pretty good time on our tax dollars, visiting historic European capitals most of us will never get to see because we can't afford to, and now he meets with Putin just as an indictment from Robert Mueller's special investigation has fingered twelve Russian military intelligence officers for trying to hack into voter registration systems.  Democrats - still attempting to recover from Whig-like irrelevance - have asked Trump to call off tomorrow's meeting with the Russian leader, or at least ask him about this charge from the special prosecutor's office.
What do you think he'll do?
There is nothing scarier than to have such a diplomatically challenged xenophobe whose massive ego does not comport with his abilities as President of the United States.  More than hip-hop, sport utility vehicles, or adulterated food - more than anything with the exception of our gun culture - nothing these days is a greater embarrassment to these United States than Donald J. Trump.            

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Murphy's Law of Budgeting - Take Two

Well, I sure got it wrong!
What I thought was a triumph for New Jersey governor Phil Murphy - getting a budget passed and avoiding a shutdown - has actually turned out to be a defeat for him.  Murphy may have gotten increased taxes on the the super-rich and may have gotten more revenue from a tax on corporations, but what he really wanted was a permanent tax on those making more than one million dollars a year, not five million as passed, and he got neither.  If anyone got everything he wanted, it was Stephen Sweeney, the less progressive Democratic Senate president.  Murphy may have to go back to the legislature to ask for more money for his priorities, but his proprieties are not Sweeney's . . . and Sweeney's top priority is cutting public-employee pensions, something Murphy did not campaign on.
Murphy didn't make concessions on the budget because he wanted to avoid state beach closures. He made them because he didn't want to play politics and remain above the political rancor.  In avoiding a fight, he ceded much of his power to Sweeney, who now holds all the cards.  Murphy can propose the most ambitious liberal agenda in New Jersey history and Sweeney can put the brakes on any or all of it without so much as lifting a finger. 
And the taxes that were passed, all of which are temporary and some of which expire before the next gubernatorial election, may hurt Democratic chances not to keep the New Jersey legislature but to win back Congress.  New Jersey Republicans are tying the state tax increases to Democrats running for U.S. House and Senate seats using the old "birds of a feather" argument; if we can expect higher taxes on "hard-working families" and the like from Democrats in Trenton, we can expect New Jersey Democratic candidates for Congress to back the same sort of punitive taxes in Washington.  That argument almost worked for New Jersey Republican Christine Todd Whitman when she ran against Democratic Bill Bradley for U.S. Senate in 1990 and made Governor Jim Florio's unpopular tax agenda an issue.  She came very close to winning Bradley's Senate seat.  Three years later, she was elected governor of New Jersey.  
Whether New Jersey congressional candidates and Trenton Democrats are birds of a feather, Phil Murphy's administration isn't a turkey just yet.  He's already accomplished a good deal of his efforts to roll back the conservative agenda of Chris Christie, and he's still in a good position to get more done.  But he has to take on Sweeney and realize that Sweeney answers to him, not the other way around.  He has to be more political and less diplomatic; the New Jersey governorship isn't a job where you smooth things out with charm and grace, like being ambassador to Germany, Murphy's last (and first) political job (which he was appointed, not elected, to). 
As for me . . . well, I'm obviously not good at getting some things right.  It's obvious that there's more to Phil Murphy - and in some cases, less - than I originally thought.  I haven't been this embarrassed since I thought Al Franken would survive a sex scandal.  I hope Murphy becomes more effective as he grows more into his job.  There's still a lot more for him to do.  But for now, when it comes to power in Trenton, it's Steve Sweeney's world; Murphy is merely signing legislation in it.      

Friday, July 13, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - July 13, 2018

"Lean On Me" by Bill Withers  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Piggies"

Beatles fans who say that John Lennon's satirical and social commentary lyrics drew blood fail to appropriate how biting George Harrison could be when the situation called for it.  George's "Piggies" is a particularly nasty dig at capitalist consumerism and the false promises of a profit-driven system.  But the biggest source of inspiration for "Piggies" was a classic novel satirizing not capitalism but communism.
"Piggies" was partly based on George Orwell's satirical novel "Animal Farm," in which the pigs on a farm lead an animal revolt for their freedom against humans and win the fight. Early pledges toward working for a better future devolve into authoritarianism, however, when the pig Napoleon chases away his former ally, another pig named Snowball, and commits the animals to hard labor for a promised outcome of a better life.  When the animals try to build a windmill that was Snowball's idea and it gets destroyed in a storm, Napoleon insists that Snowball is trying to sabotage the project and has the animals turn against him.
Orwell's novel (which would also inspire Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals) is a parable of the rise of Stalin and the banishment of his arch-rival Trotsky, but George Harrison saw how leaders of a capitalist society could just as easily manipulate the system by encouraging the masses to indulge in greed and have control over them.  While the pigs in John's "I Am the Walrus" fled from a gun, George's pigs are too complacent to do little more than crawl in the dirt.  Meanwhile, the bigger pigs - the upper classes - display their dominance by stirring things up and walking around in clean white shirts.  "With 'Piggies,'" Nicholas Schaffner, one of the best writers on the subject of British rock, wrote in 1977, "Harrison turns from the spirit to the flesh, to sling some caustic barbs at a greedy and materialistic Establishment." 
"Piggies" is as biting as George's earlier song about the British tax system, "Taxman" - and, as Beatles scholar Mark Lewisohn noted, was similarly lacking in subtlety.  George pulls no punches as he snidely expresses disgust over the pigs' apathy and their cannibalistic appetites as they sit to "eat their bacon."  The only thing to do to wake them up is to give them a "damn good whacking."  The dismay George sees in the pigs' inability or lack of desire to better themselves and mend their porcine ways suggests comparisons with Bing Crosby's 1944 hit song "Swinging On a Star," written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke for the Crosby movie Going My Way. Playing a Catholic priest, Crosby sings this song in the movie to a bunch of unruly boys about how they could better themselves and enjoy the best life has to offer, or become a foolish animal that acts rude or lives a life of sloth, such as a fish, a mule . . . or a pig.  Since the Beatles were influenced by old standards as much as by rock and roll, it's not inconceivable that George had "Swinging On a Star" in mind when he wrote "Piggies."
The music, though, is in a way more subversive than the lyrics.  The melody is carried by a gentle harpsichord, an instrument not widely used in pop (although it features prominently in Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair / Canticle") but common in classical recordings.  The idea to use a harpsichord was literally a last-minute decision when assistant White Album producer Chris Thomas came across it in EMI Abbey Road's Studio One and suggested to George that it could be used in the song.  (Thomas plays it on the record.)  The lilting, baroque sound is a decidedly stark contrast to George's snide vocal and acerbic lyrics, much like how Family's "Hung Up Down," from their 1969 album Family Entertainment, would juxtapose a madrigal melody driven by a flute with Roger Chapman's angrily raw vocal spewing out hatred against war and thievery.  But the use of a harpsichord in "Piggies" is also meant to be ironic; several Beatles authors have seized on how the elegant, refined music symbolizes the upper classes who perpetuate the misery of the lower classes, the upper classes' own snobbish highbrow culture being used against them.  Tim Riley, in his Beatles book "Tell Me Why," noted how the harpsichord is a superlatively inappropriate instrument for the music of "Piggies," focusing on the blue notes in the song.  "It's twisted," he writes, "the wrong instrument playing in the wrong style."  The string section later scored by George Martin only add to the mockery, as do the sounds of pigs grunting.
"Piggies" took on a new meaning in America, though, as young people turned virulently against the war in Vietnam and their leaders of the establishment.  Anti-war demonstrators regularly clashed with law enforcement in the United States and were growing disillusioned following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.  The increasingly inflamed tensions between the cops and the anti-war movement ultimately led to the violent, brutal reaction by Chicago's supposedly finest to the demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  The police had become the "pigs."
This was a point not lost on Schaffner in his thoughts about George Harrison's song.  "1968 - the year of [the Chicago Democratic] convention, Nixon's election, and unprecedented numbers of student anti-Vietnam War demonstrations - was a time when any representative of 'the system,' particularly a politician or a policeman," he wrote, "was fated to automatically take on the guise of a 'pig' in the view of much of the counterculture."  George may have been thinking of the stuffiness of the British upper class when he wrote "Piggies," but in the U.S., it was heard as a slight against the provincial, uptight, socially conservative Middle America that produced leaders such as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, as well as their pedestrian, plastic-jive values.  After all, they were  the sort of folks who listened to Liberace and ate surf-and-turf entrées at buffet restaurants and thought they were a pretty classy bunch.  They were happy to support a foreign war meant to preserve "the American way of life" and showed indifference to what went on around.  The Beatles proved to be more in tune with the times than anyone could have possibly imagined.
"Piggies" ends with a strident string coda, suggesting that the piggies are on their way to the abattoir.
One more time . . . ;-)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

For The Cup

I haven't been commenting ion the World Cup soccer tournament on my blog this year, but that doesn't mean I haven't been watching it. (A lot of Americans haven't, because we're not in it, just as a lot of Americans don't bother worrying about climate change because we're not in the Paris Agreement; after all, that's a hoax, isn't it?) I've been keeping my comments on the World Cup to my Facebook page up to now.
But what a tournament! Defending champion Germany made a miraculous comeback in Group F play, only to flunk out of F against South Korea and fail to make the round of sixteen. Spain made it into the round of sixteen only to be upset by host country Russia (who in turn were eliminated by Croatia) and Brazil, the perennial World Cup favorite and the New York Yankees of international soccer, got knocked out of Cup contention by Belgium.  Belgium!
Croatia goes against England today in the match to determine who will face France, who eliminated Belgium, in the Cup final on Sunday, and though England looks like the favorite, another upset in this Cup tournament of upsets can't be ruled out. It's going to be an exciting semifinal and it's going to be an exciting final, whoever France faces.
As for American World Cup hopes in the future, at least future World Cup hopes that only involve soccer players with Y chromosomes . . . well, who's ready for football? I mean the NFL variety, of course, because American football - fútbol Americano - is the only sort of football Americans care about, even if no one else on the planet (except in Canada) does. And NFL football is a lot like our current environmental policy. It is stupid. It is, if I may say, crazy. And it doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

More Comings and Goings

Environmental Destruction Agency chief Scott Pruitt is out, the victim of his own lavish spending and influence peddling.  But those who think they can literally breathe easier ought to remember that Andrew Wheeler, the acting EDA administrator, is a former coal lobbyist.  Pruitt's departure treated a symptom.  The disease goes merrily on.
And Brett Kavanaugh, the new Supreme Court nominee?  I think his record says all you need to know about him, so I won't do more than cite it . . . and mention his opinion that sitting U.S. Presidents can't be indicted while in office.
Ironically, he worked for Ken Starr on the Whitewater investigation.
Please note that I didn't mention the current President's name.  I'm taking Martin O'Malley's advice and not talking about him. 
Oh yeah, Kavanaugh's another Catholic . . . are we ever going to see a Protestant on the High Court again??     

Monday, July 9, 2018

Working Man

A staunch conservative, a prairie progressive, a pro-détente RT America anchorman - Ed Schultz was all of these.
The former MSNBC commentator, who died at 64 of undisclosed causes a few days ago, shifted political positions but never wavered from his working-class base.  He appealed to liberals of all stripes as a progressive talk show host on MSNBC, but he aimed his commentary especially at the working class, and he focused on the labor movement at a time when most liberals would not (and still will not) address labor's concerns.  He always strove to relate to Joe Sixpack, originally as a right-leaning talk-radio host who bashed the elites and then becoming a liberal as he saw how supply-side economics was wreaking havoc on the economy and on the American worker.  He carried that spirit to MSNBC when he joined the network in 2009, and he valiantly kept it up for six years before MSNBC fired him.
MSNBC never really cared all that much about reaching working-class folks, though, and Schultz must have known that; toward the end of his run there, he was doing things to keep his job like defending Beyoncé's stage act ("Feminism is anything women want it to be") - hardly a concern to iron workers who listen to (as well as work with) heavy metal. Former MSNBC host Krystal Ball recently came right out and said that the cable channel dropped him because the working class he was catering to didn't fit its desired demographic.  Coincidentally, she also noted, he was let go right after Donald Trump declared his presidential candidacy and went after the same people Schultz pursued.
"I find it really ironic that they took this incredibly pro-working-class voice off the air right before the Trump era when obviously you had a lot of working-class voters who didn't feel like they had a home in the Democratic Party any more," Ball said.  "To me, there was a correlation there between MSNBC not really understanding his audience and not really wanting to court his audience and moving him off the air and then what happened in the Trump era."  Schultz's dismissal from MSNBC turned out to represent another step by the Democratic Party and Democratic media toward Whiggish irrelevance.
Schultz ended his career under humiliating circumstances - as a news personality for RT America, the U.S. channel of Russia Today, a state-supported Russian network.  This led Schultz to downplay Russian influence in the 2016 election (Hillary Clinton, whom he once stood up for, wasn't entirely blameless for her loss, but Ed was convinced that Putin, a man he had once criticized and dismissed as a dictator, was completely blameless for it).  Here's how he analyzed the choice of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Trump's first Secretary of State:
"Why is [Tillerson's] business relationships and successes with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the business world and in the energy industry, why is that a negative on Capitol Hill?  Isn’t that a positive thing that he knows Putin?"
Tillerson turned out to be an okay guy, but that's beside the point.  Schultz went from Putin critic to Putin cheerleader without skipping a beat.  Was it worth compromising his integrity to stay on something resembling the TV airwaves (RT America doesn't get much distribution on cable television, but it is available online)?       
Perhaps it was.  Schultz was the only person on TV speaking for American labor and the American worker in any capacity, what with Fox going for a conservative white-collar audience and MSNBC and CNN pursuing bourgeois liberal audiences who look down their noses at proletarian types.  I may have stopped listening to him when he belittled Martin O'Malley (and to this day I have no idea why he, of all people, had to be so nasty toward the former Maryland governor), and I may not have the type of job that requires me to take a shower after work ( a common Schultz phrase), but I still agreed with virtually everything else he stood for.  I'm only sorry he met his end while shilling for the Kremlin.  RIP. :-(

Sunday, July 8, 2018

You Want ICE With That?

Okay, now this immigration debate has just gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Numerous Democratic politicians, including Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (hmm, wonder what they all have in common?), as well as New York Democratic House nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have all called for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau.
What?
It is true that ICE has been pursuing the policies of the Trump administration to crack down on people entering the country by means other than legal ones, and these policies have been punitive and unfair, but this doesn't reflect badly on ICE.  It reflects badly on Trump.  See, we need an agency to patrol or borders and regulate the way people come into this country.  In fact, we need an Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau to enforce laws governing not just how people enter this country but also how goods and services enter this country.  I would love to live in a nation and on a planet where we have entirely open borders, as if there were no borders at all, and as rock star Graham Nash once said, the fact that you see no borders when you look at a picture of the earth shows where our hope as a planet lies.  But we're not there yet - neither here nor elsewhere.  If you don't police and regulate the borders, then you don't have order.  You have chaos.   
As bad as Trump's zero-tolerance policy is toward illegal immigrants is, can you imagine how bad it would be if people crossed the borders without anyone patrolling them?  If you want to get a handle on the border, you don't get rid of ICE.  You change the laws and the policies behind it.  We need to reform ICE, not get rid of it, but at the same time we also need to reform our immigration laws to allow people to come in more easily and treat immigrants - especially asylum seekers - more fairly.  And the first step to dong that, at least the first step after getting rid of at least one Republican congressional majority in the 2018 midterms, is getting rid of Trump.
I do understand, though, that talking about abolishing ICE is a big political boon to the party.  The Grand Old Party, that is.:-O        

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Murphy's Law of Budgeting

After intense negotiations with the leaders of both houses of the Democratic-controlled New Jersey state legislature, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the state budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year into law, averting at the last minute a shutdown that would have forced state offices and parks to close after June 30.  The deal allows New Jerseyans like myself to breathe a sigh of relief after the state experience a major shutdown a year earlier that disrupted just about everything.
Murphy, who has pushed for many liberal initiatives such as strict gun control and a guarantee of Net neutrality from Internet service providers doing business with the state, wants to spend more to improve education and mass transit going forward, and he'll have the money to do it.  There'll be more than $1 billion in revenue from a four-year surcharge on corporations, a tax on people making an annual income of $5 million or more, and even an Uber tax.
Murphy had to give up a few proposals of his in negotiations with Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney (below, right, with Murphy), such as a sales tax increase from 6 percent to 7 percent and a tax increase on incomes over $1 million.  Sweeney opposed both.
"These long-term commitments require real, reliable, sustainable, long-term revenues," the governor said. "Because of magnanimous concessions on all sides, I am satisfied that the plan we agreed to today, which includes a version of the millionaire's tax as well as a temporary but declining corporation business tax surcharge, will appropriately begin the multi-year process of fixing New Jersey’s fiscal woes in a fair and responsible manner."
Some pundits are already saying that Murphy was the big loser, because he had to give up more.  No, he won.  He secured a plan to put his initiatives and budget priorities in place and got a budget framework for the next three to four years, but more importantly, he avoided a budget shutdown with the Democrats in control of the both houses of the legislature, the Assembly and the Senate, as well as the governorship.  Had there been a shutdown, it would have sent a message that the party is not capable of running New Jersey and lessened chances for the Democrats to retain control of the Assembly in the 2019 midterms more than any tax increase ever could.  Murphy's own ability to govern New Jersey would have been particularly called into question.  And imagine the outrage that would have resulted if the state beaches had been closed this past Sunday in the middle of possibly the worst East Coast heat wave of the decade.  As Governor Murphy noted himself, in recalling the previous shutdown, "A year ago, government shut down and beaches were closed (for most of us, anyway. . .)."
For the record, Murphy didn't follow his predecessor's precedent and go to the beach at Island Beach State Park.  He stayed in and watched the World Cup.
New Jersey Democrats just proved that they can run a state and move it in a progressive direction without Republican obstruction.  That should give Democrats in states where governorships and state legislatures are up for election in 2018 - i.e., most of them - an election campaign boost. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - July 6, 2018

"Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Blackbird"

This song from the Beatles' White Album is filled with more possible connotations than most people realize.  At its surface, Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" is a gentle acoustic song offering succor to those who feel entrapped and inspiring them to see the truth and learn to fly and be free. "Blackbird" prophesies Paul's Wings album Band On the Run, which would revolve around the ideas of escape, flight and freedom.  It's a song that anyone in despair or on the edge of self-discovery can relate to.  Heck, I even quoted it in my college yearbook entry.   
Except that Paul was apparently targeting this song at a specific demographic.
While touring the U.S. in 2002, Paul claimed that he wrote the song about the struggle for both civil rights and gender rights waged by Negro women (as they were still called in 1968) in America.  See, Negroes are also called blacks, women in Britain are called birds . . . "black bird," get it?  He said he wrote it in Scotland after reading about the racial unrest in the United States.
Because Paul only offered this explanation of his song 34 years after its release, many Beatles fans and rock critics viewed his statement with a heavy dose of skepticism.  And since "bird," like "chick," is quite a condescending term for a woman, many folks felt that Paul's explanation did not ring true because of the clumsy symbolism of the title.  Two other points: Paul would later write a similar song for Band On the Run called "Bluebird," a song having nothing to do with race or with the Buffalo Springfield song of the same name.  Also, Paul on another occasion had a different story of how he wrote "Blackbird" - he said he was inspired to write the song by the sound of a blackbird's call while studying Transcendental Meditation in India. 
Intriguingly, however, Paul did tell Donovan, whose guitar technique inspired this and so many other White Album songs, during a rehearsal session at EMI Abbey Road Studios the day the White Album was released in Britain that he was indeed thinking about the state of race relations in America when he wrote it.  And interpretations of "Blackbird" had pivoted toward racial issues even before Paul said in 2002 that the song was about black American women, though music writer Ian MacDonald dismissed such ideas by highlighting the song's romanticism.  That romanticism, MacDonald wrote in his Beatles book "Revolution In the Head," translates "into a succinct metaphor for awakening on a deeper level."  In other words, pretty much how I heard the song when I first heard it in 1981, the year I first bought the White Album.
One thing that is not in dispute is that the melody and arrangement of "Blackbird" are in the romantic tradition, a place Macca has always been comfortable in.  Paul sings to his solo guitar accompaniment while keeping time with the tap of his foot (which Beatles scholar Mark Lewisohn thought was the sound of a metronome), the chirping of a blackbird coming in at the end.  The melody was derived from Johann Sebastian Bach's "Bourrée in E minor," a classical piece popular with aspiring guitarists that also inspired the instrumental "Bourée" on Jethro Tull's second album.  Perhaps it's too romantic; John Lennon dismissed "Blackbird" outright in 1980, saying he gave Paul a line for the song and adding a left-handed compliment for Paul's guitar playing.  "He's good at that stuff, you know," John said.  "So's John Denver."  Indeed, many people suspect that Paul's efforts to explain "Blackbird" as social commentary are an effort to make himself look as adept at writing such songs as John was.    
I still appreciate "Blackbird" as a romantic and inspirational song anyone can identify with, and it is such a song at heart, but as a song about black women in America, it was a misfire.  There's little if anything in the lyrics that indicates anything specific to black feminism.  The truth is, black American women didn't need to be inspired by the sort of song meant to be played in coffeehouses dominated by white clienteles.  Just a year before, Aretha Franklin made the most definitive black feminist statement ever with her cover of Otis Redding's "Respect," turning a song about an overworked man's pleas to his lady into a song of a lady's liberation.  And in the same year the White Album was released, the Supremes had an American number-one hit single with "Love Child," a song about an illegitimate daughter describing the shame and poverty of growing up outside a family structure and asking (but more like telling) her boyfriend to wait to have sex with her.  Against some a terrifying string section and some harrowing vocalizing from the backing singers, Diana Ross's character makes it clear that no child of hers will grow up with the shame she grew up with.  ("Love Child" was a Supremes record in name only; the backing vocals were provided by a backing choral group called the Andantes, not Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong.) It's also worth noting that when the Supremes performed "Love Child" on Ed Sullivan's show, they did so not dressed to the nines and with straight hair but in the street clothes and with the short, unprocessed hair common among young black women in the late sixties - a visual statement to match their musical one.  Franklin's and Ross's generation of black American women were more than ready to break free.
Did I happen to mention that "Love Child" knocked the Beatles' own "Hey Jude" off the top of the Billboard singles chart?
To be succinct, it was hardly necessary for Paul McCartney to stand with American black feminism in song; to use modern argot, the sisters were doing it for themselves, with Detroit sisters Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross leading the way.  You might say that Franklin and Ross are "birds of a feather." ;-)
Ultimately, "Blackbird" is still a song for anyone who feels oppressed, personally or politically, who need to be inspired to awaken and be free, which is why it's been covered by a diverse array of artists, too many to mention here.  Kenny Rankin covered it in 1974 in the style of the original Beatles recording but with a slightly quicker tempo, and Paul McCartney found Rankin's cover so moving that he asked Rankin to perform the song at the ceremony for John and Paul when they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  (Here's something else I found out about Kenny Rankin; his folkish 1976 cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was played at George Harrison's memorial service.)   Crosby, Stills and Nash recorded a demo of the song for a possible record deal with Apple (they ultimately went to Atlantic instead), and they've performed it in concerts, but they've never included a properly recorded take on an album.  (The demo was released in 1991 on the group's box set.)  Others who have covered it include Dionne Farris, Neil Diamond, Sarah McLachlan, and Petula Clark.  The song may have been about black women, but Paul McCartney still wrote a song with universal meaning.
Sadly, for black women in America and for many Americans who don't fit that demographic, freedom and awakening in 2018 seem to be more elusive then ever.  We've gone from waiting for a moment to be free to, as Bruce Springsteen would put it, waiting for a moment that just won't come.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Hot Hundred

Or close to it.
Temperatures in northern New Jersey have flirted with one hundred degrees Fahrenheit over the past couple of days, and a lot of us in this part of the country aren't happy about it.  Me, I've been taking it easy, going to the pool, and just trying to do everything possible to stay cool.  
Am I hoping for a break in the heat?  Yes, but not a clean one.  I don't want to see it get to the point that when a cold front does come through, it doesn't whip up the sort of severe thunderstorms that knock out the electricity for hours.  While the heat hasn't put a strain on our electricity, it's already tested our cable connection - a TV outage this past Friday was followed by a telephone and Internet outage on Sunday and four more telephone and Internet outages yesterday.  (Part of all this had to do with a cut cable, but what caused the cable to break in the first place?)  This coming Friday's forecast calls for widespread thunderstorms all day long thanks to a cold front, and temperatures should come down enough to provide noticeable relief. 
Just the same, I'll have to cross my fingers when the cold front does come through . . . and hope the more comfortable weather for the weekend doesn't come at a price. :-O

Monday, July 2, 2018

All Politics Is Local

In case establishment Democrats didn't get the message that their time is up, take a look at what happened in the June 26 primary election in New York's Fourteenth U.S. House District, which encompasses northwestern Queens and the southeastern Bronx (the Whitestone Bridge is the connection between the two parts).  Joseph Crowley, the district's current representative and an Irish urban pol in the old-school tradition of Richard Daley, Tom Pendergast, and the Bronx's own James Farley, just got his Irish butt handed to him in the primary by a political newcomer and self-described democratic socialist named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
She's a supporter of Bernie Sanders who advocates Medicare for all, guaranteed employment, and tuition-free public education. And while not every Democrat will get on board with her agenda, that's not important.  What's important is that voters in her district are on board with Ocasio-Cortez's positions more than they were with those of Crowley, who as Queens County Democratic Committee chairman and as a white guy was a mainstream liberal in a district that is half Hispanic and less than one-fifth non-Hispanic white.  Crowley is someone who has always been accountable the needs of his district, but his constituents (or at least those who voted in the primary) decided that the old way wasn't just working for them anymore.
Although this is already a Democratic district, Ocasio-Cortez's victory in the primary should send a message to Democrats vying to flip Republican House seats in other districts - that is, you have to be able to respond to the concerns of the voters and be more in tune with local issues than with the national party's agenda.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right for her district.  In New Jersey, Mikie Sherrill, running to be the first Democrat to be elected to represent my U.S. House district since 1982, is right for my district, even though she's not nearly as liberal as Ocasio-Cortez.  Both women realize that the key to helping their party regain the House is to listen to the voters and focus on what you're for rather than just being against Trump.
In other words, what Martin O'Malley has been saying for months.
O'Malley was pleased with Ocasio-Cortez's June 26 win for all the reasons stated above, even though he had nothing to do with it. Ironically, he came up on the losing end in his home state of Maryland that same day. O'Malley got behind Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker's bid for governor of Maryland but saw former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who's closer to Sanders than O'Malley politically, win the June 26 primary instead.  O'Malley, who's not really part of the establishment but is viewed with suspicion by many progressives for having once been part of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, didn't do himself any favors by supporting a candidate with establishment backing.  Good grief, Baker was backed by Steny Hoyer, the Maryland congressman who is establishment right down to his toenails. 
Quite frankly, I don't know why O'Malley involves himself in primaries when his focus should be on the general elections.  Perhaps he supported Baker because he had the best chance of defeating incumbent Republican Governor Larry Hogan (who's favored to win re-election and would likely win a second term even if the Democratic nominee were Saint Francis of Assisi) in the fall.  Even more perplexing is why O'Malley should involve himself in the politics of his own state.  O'Malley's reputation at home has suffered since he left the governor's office in 2015; Hogan's popularity is partly based on rolling back some of O'Malley's policies.  O'Malley isn't unpopular with everyone in Maryland, but enough Maryland voters hold him in such low regard that the best thing for his political future is to continue his efforts for the Democrats elsewhere.  Conclusion: Martin O'Malley has done a good job with his Win Back Your State PAC so far, but the last state he should help Democrats win back is his own.
And if Ben Jealous is whom Maryland Democrats want, then he's the best candidate for them.   

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Supreme Injustice

Liberals are tearing their hair out over Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement from the Supreme Court, but before any of you get heated up over it (isn't it hot enough outside?), bear these things in mind:
First, it is true that Justice Kennedy was a swing vote on key issues.  He was the swing vote on marriage-equality issues, all right, but he was also the swing vote on the Citizens United ruling and the upholding of the Trump travel ban, ans his parting gift was a ruling gutting public-sector unions.  When he first joined the Court as the replacement for Lewis Powell (no liberal himself), he was a more reliable conservative.
Second, the Court's entire composition changes with each new member, just as the Who were a different band after Keith Moon did. The chemistry changes, the power shifts, and someone else becomes a swing vote. The likeliest candidate for that position now is Chief Justice John Roberts, who is a reliable conservative but is also a minimalist who cares about the Court as a impartial, nonpartisan institution ans was the justice who saved President Obama's health insurance mandate (which Congress has since repealed).      
Third, it will be tougher for Trump to get a Supreme Court nominee through, because Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has to deal with a 50-seat caucus (Arizona's John McCain is still out of commission), from which a couple of Republican senators might defect when voting on a nominee.  The Senate Democrats running for re-election in states carried by Trump in the 2016 presidential election are in a more secure position now then they were when most of them voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch.  They're likely to be less intimidated now.
And by the way, I've been led to understand that many Democrats feel they should have made more of a fight to get President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a hearing and a vote.  Oh, now you think of that?  You certainly never thought Hillary would lose the 2016 election and the Democrats would stay in the minority in the Senate going into the current Congress, mainly because your imaginations weren't elastic enough to ponder the idea that Hillary was not, in fact, inevitable.  You were even hoping Hillary would appoint someone else because you didn't think Judge Garland was liberal enough, so you didn't even bother having his back.  You'd thought the Hobby Lobby decision on employer-provided contraception coverage would make the Court an issue and arouse the base in the 2014 midterms - yeah, why did you lose the Senate then?  The truth is, Democrats have always gone soft on the issue of the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary and have had no strategy to appoint judges who are on their side.  When it comes to packing the courts, Republicans play chess.  Democrats play checkers.  
Well, Dems, you'd better learn how to play chess fast, because, regardless of what I've said here, this Supreme Court vacancy could still very well be for all the marbles!  If you wimp out here, you might as well Whig out.      

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Another Fashion Reunion Party!

Summer have begun on June 21, but things were really hot a couple of days earlier in New York City, and I'm not talking about the weather.  Yes, I attended yet another fashion reunion party hosted by model Nancy Donahue and hairdresser Harry King, a party not just for models and hairdressers but also for photographers, modeling agents, magazine editors, and . . . me.  I got invited, as always, because of my diligent work in preserving the work of the models of the 1970s and 1980s on my beautiful-women picture blog, which a couple of these models somehow managed to discover back in the waning days of the two thousand zeroes.  Nancy and I have been friends on Facebook since December 2009, making my friendship with her one of my longest of any model I've connected with online. :-)
And here she is with two of her peers, both of whom I met for the first time at her 2018 party, my sixth.  (In fact, I saw a lot of people I'd never met before at this party, and I enjoyed meeting all of them.)
Nancy is joined here by Barbara Neumann, at left, and and Joy Bell, both models themselves. Barbara Neumann was a top model in the late seventies and worked a lot in Paris, and she's since worked as managing modeling agencies, serving as a director of the men's divisions of the Ford and Wilhelmina agencies in Florida.  Joy Bell worked in Italy, France, England the the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s, working with photographers like Irving Penn and doing editorials for many fashion magazines.  She took a break from modeling before returning to the profession to do assignments aimed at women of her generation.  One of those assignments was for a Time cover article on - wait for it - female midlife crises.   I met both of them, and they are very nice women.  Joy Bell has a personality as bright and clear as her name. :-)
The party was well attended, no doubt in thanks to the new location - the Soho Grand Hotel on West Broadway in Lower Manhattan.  The room appeared to be bigger than the space in the old Parlor nightclub, which meant more room for dancing for these veterans of the 1970s and '80s fashion scene to the music of their time, courtesy of a DJ named Delphine Blue - which meant lots of Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Ha ha!  I am kidding, of course, as no one who liked Zep and Skynyrd back in the day would have been considered cool enough to hang out with models, fashion photographers, hairdressers and makeup artists.  But of course, even though this was a '70s and '80s fashion party, fashion icons from other periods were welcome too.   
The evergreen Linda Morand, who's been modeling since the sixties, was also there, and I was happy to see her.  We actually managed to exchange words - hard to do when there's a combination of a din and loud music! :-D - and she was pleased to see me again.  A seventies model who was also pleased to see me again was Jany Tomba (below), whom I got a picture of while she was posing for someone else.  It was that kind of party.    
A familiar and familiarly beautiful face I am always glad to see at these parties is that of Yasmine Sokal Guenancia, whose auburn hair made for a stunning and arresting presence in ads and editorials in the fashion magazines of the late 1970s.  Here she is below - still looking stunning and arresting in a black dress - with Bonnie Pfeifer Evans.
And who, you may ask, is Bonnie Pfeifer Evans?  She's a one-time model who has also worked as a fundraising consultant in New York, specializing in charities fighting AIDS.  I've seen her at many of Nancy and Harry's other parties, but I found out a little more about her that blew my mind.  She was married to New York businessman Charles Evans until his death in 2007.  And while that name may not sound familiar to you, perhaps you've heard of his brother - film producer Robert Evans.
So, Bonnie was, or is, Robert Evans's sister-in-law.   But her tireless work in the fight against acquired immune deficiency syndrome - a disease that is not, in fact, in decline - ought to make it clear that she deserves to be identified as someone other than a wife, widow or in-law.  She's doing very well carving out a distinguished identity on her own.
And then there was one of my all-time favorite models, Beverly Lee, who has a very formidable persona herself, having been the first major American model of Asian origin.
Beverly Lee remains as exotically beautiful as ever, and she's become a regular at Nancy and Harry's annual party.  She even looks great in horn-rimmed glasses! Here she is talking and laughing with Alva Chinn, another pioneering model of color and a dear friend of mine, while Bev's husband Robert Muscovite checks his smartphone.  
And here's Beverly Lee with makeup artist Pam Geiger, the two of them somehow managing to have a conversation while DJ Delphine Blue spins some platters in the background.  ("Funk #49" by the James Gang, maybe?  What do you think? :D )  
And while Madame Blue went over her request list (my request for "Green Grass and High Tides" by the Outlaws was denied), Bev chatted with a model I'd never heard of before I met her at this party.  Shailah Edmonds (above) is a veteran of the New York and Paris fashion scene, having done numerous assignments that took her all over the world.  She is now pursuing her career as a jazz vocalist, and she also coaches young models who are making their way in the business.  Both she and Beverly Lee are alumni of the Ford Models, which is the premier modeling agency in the world of fashion and beauty. 
So you would have to assume that Ms. Lee and Ms. Edmonds look even more lovely in person, yes?  Absolutely. :-)
Of course, when I got to the Soho Grand, I was hoping to stay as long as possible so I could still be there WHEN DAWN ARRIVED!  No, I don't mean I hoped to stay until 5:30 in the morning.  New York fashion parties, legendary as they are, don't last that long.  I mean Dawn Gallagher, of course.
Dawn Gallagher is a nice Irish girl from Buffalo who was discovered by a fashion photographer in The City That Never Thaws and given his business card, which she promptly . . . put in her desk drawer and forgot about.  That is, until she later saw his name in a photo credit in a fashion magazine and realized he was legitimate.  And that's when she called the number on the card, and the rest is history. To think . . . she could have just as easily never seen this photographer's name in a fashion magazine and never known he was for real, then she never would have called him and become a top model . . and then she would have missed the pleasure of meeting me! And she would have also missed the pleasure of posing for me in the picture above. :-)
And then I would have never gotten this picture.
Here's Dawn, dancing to Molly Hatchet's 1979 classic "Flirtin' With Disaster."  Ha ha, I caught you - no, Delphine Blue wouldn't have played those lead-foot stompers either, and I don't remember what was playing at this particular moment, but Dawn probably was dancing to a song from 1979 . . . just not the kind of song I could play air guitar to.
I don't dance. Fortunately, my dear friend Shanti Patty Owen - whose new memoir you already know about - does, and that I'm grateful for, because it produced this wonderful action shot! :-)
She liked this shot too. :-)
I'd gotten tipsy on Scotch and Coke without the Scotch, so I was a little taken aback when someone out of nowhere recognized me as she arrived; I didn't know I was that popular! :-D It was Kim Charlton, the lovely blonde model from the early 1980s who's now a real estate agent.  Also as happy to see her as I was was Joey Hunter, a legendary modeling agent who now works for a company providing software services to the modeling profession.  Kim couldn't help but go soft on him at the party.
Some guys have all the luck.
I mean,what could be better than to be kissed by a beautiful woman and greeted with a smile like that? 
I stole a couple of hugs and kisses from many a lovely lass at the Soho Grand. Who?  Sorry, I don't kiss, hug and tell. ;-)
But I can tell you this: Geoffrey Saunders, Nancy Donahue's public-relations man, got this photo of me standing next to one of Delphine Blue's speakers, which was not playing Deep Purple's "Highway Star." :-D  
Okay, Steve, you're asking me now, how do we know you were even there?  How do we know that all those other pictures are yours?  There aren't any pictures of you with a beautiful model or anything.
You asked for it. :-D
Yes, that's me with Beverly Lee, whom I had developed a crush on back when I was a teenager.  I don't know what prompted her to offer me to pose with her - and of course I said yes without hesitation - but it might have been because I'd taken all those pictures of her. :-)  After we looked at the photo on her smartphone, she turned to me and said, "You're very photogenic!"  
Oh my God, one of the most beautiful women of all time called me photogenic!  I was so floored - I don't think I could have possibly thanked her adequately for that compliment! 
There were several other famous faces at Nancy and Harry's get-together, including French model Anne Bezamat, who I regrettably missed this time - I think she got there after I had to leave to get the bus home.  But, as you can see from the image above, I don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. :-)  And posing with Beverly Lee was very good indeed. :-) 
As with ever other fashion reunion party I have attended, it was a night to remember, even if the music was to be forgotten. ("Got To Be Real"?  Get real!)  Okay, Delphine Blue did play the Rolling Stones from the Some Girls / Tattoo You era, so I really can't complain.
I was with beautiful women.  Do you hear me complaining? Until next time, of course. :-)
(And I was only kidding about requesting a record from the Outlaws.) 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Music Video Of the Week: June 29, 2018

"Grease" by Frankie Valli  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "I'm So Tired"

"I love you" is easily the most commonly spoken three-word sentence in the English language - and, as the Avett Brothers have noted, it's sometimes the most difficult three-word sentence in the English language to say.  It's inspired numerous pop songs, including a great deal of songs from the Beatles, right from their very first EMI single in 1962. But it took a genius like John Lennon to make a song out of the second most commonly spoken three-word sentence in the English language. 
John wrote "I'm So Tired" in India at a time when he was between lives and between wives.  He had gone to India with his wife Cynthia to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi but found himself falling in love with his ladyfriend Yoko Ono, whom he continued to correspond with while he was away.  He grew more conflicted and restless as time went by, and all that meditation didn't help him; ironically, after three weeks of intense meditating, he had developed a case of insomnia.  "I'm So Tired" was the result of his restlessness.
"I'm So Tired" sounds tired itself, and convincingly so.  The Beatles play the song at a lethargic pace and to a deadened tempo, the only sign of life coming from Ringo Starr's drums, while John sounds as bleary-eyed as you would an expect an insomniac to sound.  He addresses Yoko with exasperation as he explains that insomnia is harming him, and he tries in vain to find or do something to relax him, ultimately settling for a cigarette when both a drink and a phone call to Yoko are out of the question.  He only gets more disgusted over being addicted to nicotine, putting down the English colonialist who promoted the practice of smoking tobacco - "And curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid git!" 
The most incredible trait of "I'm So Tired" is that John doesn't just convey how he felt when he was unable to get any sleep and trying to deal with his feelings about a woman not (yet) his wife, he makes you feel it too.  Hearing this song makes you feel as exhausted and anxious as John; it effectively sucks the energy out of the room.  It's in stark contrast to John's Revolver song "I'm Only Sleeping," which flows dreamily and leaves the listener in a state of bliss.  John displays and transmits every emotion born of doubt and worry, with the occasional desperate shout to Yoko about maybe calling her and about losing his sanity, baring his soul to her with a direct frankness - "I'd give you every thing I've got for a little peace of mind" - that would be indicative of his solo work.
No song about insomnia conveys the harrowing effect of the condition with more brutal honesty than "I'm So Tired," which may explain why rock critic Greil Marcus found the song to be richer than even "A Day In the Life." In fact, many songs about insomnia reduce it to a cliché, such as Bobby Lewis's "Tossin' and Turnin'," which is more of a novelty song than anything else.  The Fifth Dimension's 1972 hit "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" shares with "I'm So Tired" the concern of peace of mind over a lover, and Marilyn McCoo has a lot of heart in her vocal - when she sings about calling her lover and not getting an answer, I go cold inside too - but the music is too polite and mannered to be effective.  Writer David Quantick said it best when he called "I'm So Tired" "the only song ever written that manages not only to musically describe insomnia, but to also make it sound entertaining."  It's hard to imagine anyone topping John Lennon's take on dealing with sleepless nights, and Lennon himself was proud of this song.  "I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well," he said in 1980.
Paul McCartney likes this song too.  In fact, when the Beatles began rehearsing for a possible concert at Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969 - which ultimately led to recording the Let It Be album instead - "I'm So Tired" was rehearsed with Paul singing lead.  The Twickenham sessions, though filmed, were not properly recorded for disc, so nothing from these rehearsals was ever released.  However, many Twickenham recordings have gotten out on bootlegs, including the Beatles' take on "I'm So Tired" with Paul on lead vocals, and that particular recording is readily available on YouTube, as evidenced below.


Paul did a credible job, but only John could do this song true justice, because it was John putting himself out in public.  "I like to write about me," John once admitted, "'cause I know me."
"I'm So Tired" ends with an exhausted Lennon apparently falling asleep at last . . . and seemingly dreaming of being in a bar in Paris.  "Monsieur, monsieur, monsieur, how about another one?"      

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Vote, Dammit!

I don't want to hear any bellyaching from the Democrats about the Supreme Court upholding the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries or anything else the Court does.  Because they brought it on themselves.
Blaming the victim, you say?  You bet!  For decades, Republicans have kept their eye on the federal judiciary and have been systematically been packing it with conservatives, while Democrats have been too wimpy to retaliate much. And when they do retaliate,  they play checkers while Republicans play chess.  Democratic Party voters haven't been very engaged either.  Because they failed to come out in the 2014 midterm elections, the Republicans took over the Senate and then blocked President Obama - whom Democratic congressional candidates in 2014 (most of whom lost) refused to link themselves to - from making a Supreme Court appointment.  A Democratic Senate being seated in 2017 could have approved an Obama pick for the Supreme Court in the waning days of his administration, but the Democratic electorate largely stayed home in 2016 and let the Republicans keep the Senate.  And the Democratic National Committee gave the Presidency to Donald Trump by promoting Hillary Clinton.
Maybe Democrats - which I am not one of - should start voting more regularly.  Otherwise, the party will be so weakened and beaten up that it is going to be doomed to Whig-like extinction.       

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

An Immodest Proposal Regarding Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was the result of Bernie bros not being careful what they wished for when they said they wanted Sanders in the White House, got turned away from the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia when she went out to eat because the owner had a problem with Donald Trump.  On the heels of her expulsion from Red Hen, Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California encouraged people to intimidate White House officials in public and deny them service in gasoline stations and department stores.
I assume that, since they can't get gas for their cars, they'll do their shopping online anyway.

This is wrong.  Just because you don't agree with or like the Trump people doesn't mean you have to harass them and make their lives hell. This is the equivalent of tripping up a street mime in front of the art museum.  It's cruel, it's mean, and the fact that Maxine Waters, who says and does a lot of things to get attention, endorses this idea means that it's dumb.  Besides, whenever you attack Trump and his supporters, you're only getting them angrier and feel more picked on, and so they'll double down on their support for him.  Look at me.  I supported Martin O'Malley for President, of course, and when everyone started telling me I was an idiot and my candidate was twerp, I doubled down on my support for O'Malley and got furious at his enemies.
And I swear, if they weren't Democrats . . .
Want another example, this one from popular culture?  How about all the rock fans like me, who felt put down and ridiculed by those rap fans who got angry when we were ticked off about Beyoncé's husband getting an Album of the Year Grammy nomination just because we don't think rap is music?  Or needled us for the fact that Beyoncé herself lost that award in 2015 to Beck?  (Again: They'll get my classic-rock CDs when they pry them from my cold, dead fingers.)
So here's what I propose.  If Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her husband want to go out to eat and they feel picked on and scorned just for going out in public . . .well, then, why don't they join me?
I'm serious.  I'd be happy to go out to dinner with them. Because, you see, I am against Trump and everything he stands for. But I, as a Trump opponent, would be pleased to take a Republican couple out to eat.  We don't even have to go to a fancy restaurant like the Red Hen, maybe one of those family places that are popular in Arkansas, the kind that serve milk with your entrée.  Besides, I understand they make a mean pot roast!  Yum, I haven't had that in ages.
So how about it, Mrs. Sanders?  A civil dinner with a Trump opponent in the restaurant of your choice  I'll even pay the tab!  And we can talk about music; I understand your dad is a decent bass player.  Perfect: My presidential candidate is a decent guitarist!  Do you and your husband like Led Zeppelin?  Hey, I'll bet you're into Skynyrd!  Just as long as we don't talk about politics, but then, as an O'Malley supporter, I am, politically speaking, neutered and irrelevant! (For now, anyway.)
Sorry we can't double date, because I can't get a woman to accompany me.  It's not because no woman I know would be seen with you, it's because I have no love life.  You don't want to know the details.
And may I say this to the liberals who are still reading this blog post - both of them?  You can't complain how women in America are judged on the basis of their looks and then make fun of Sarah Huckabee Sanders because of . . . her looks!  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Trade War Escalation

After Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum produced in the European Union, the EU retaliated by placing tariffs on American liquor and peanut butter, among other things.  Trump is now threatening to retaliate against that by imposing a whopping 20 percent tariff - up from 2.5 percent - on EU-built cars.  The European Union currently has a 10 percent tariff on U.S.-made cars, but that doesn't matter since American cars are about as popular in Europe as soccer is here.  in fact, I think soccer may even be more popular here than Chevrolets or Dodges are in the Old Country.  Since it sold Opel, GM has practically no presence there at all.
Well, as the owner of a European car - which is currently in the shop so my Volkswagen dealer can determine why it periodically stalls while idling - I'm not very happy about this.  I prefer European cars in general and German cars in particular because of their superior engineering, and one of the reasons I am a loyal Volkswagen customer is because it's the only inexpensive German brand available in the U.S.  (Of course, apart from Opel, there is no other inexpensive German brand, unless you count Ford of Europe.)  My 2012 Golf was in fact made in Wolfsburg.  Apart from the stalling problem I just mentioned, I haven't had a problem with it.  But even a VW that stalls is preferable to the best Ford or a Chevy, and Trump's tariffs are aimed at making European cars less available and less affordable.  I can't tolerate that.  His trade policy may force me to buy as my next car a car I don't really want.
And, before you make the inevitable point that many VW models sold in America are made in either Mexico or right here in the U.S., shut the hell up.  Not all VWs sold here are made on this continent, and what would I want with a Tennessee-built SUV or midsize sedan anyway?   And while the U.S. versions of the Golf and the Jetta are made in Mexico . . . watch out, Trump is getting ready to tear up NAFTA also.
If I have to give up my Golf for its stalling problem or for anything else, I might as well move to the city and take the subway.   

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Overpowering

So why did Trump try to continue to keep immigrant children detained apart from their parents and doubling down on the policy while blaming the Democrats for it, even that the legislation he cited as their responsibility has nothing to do with the policy, which was concocted by his anti-immigrant adviser Stephen Miller?
Very simple: He's been trying to energize his base.  He wants to excite them enough to get them to come out and vote in November to overpower Democratic enthusiasm.
Trump reversed the policy of separating children from parents in an executive order when the negative publicity got too bad, but he will still detain families together in atrocious conditions while trying to get Congress to pass unpopular legislation that won't really solve the problem . . . to allow him to keep deflecting blame to others for his own policy.  Children who have already been separated from their parents are still separates, and many of them are becoming unaccounted for.  Trump's overall objective is to look as if he's securing the border while playing up the concerns of "natives" at the expense of people coming here from Latin America and denying the most basic human rights.  Detaining children apart from their parents was meant to send a message,  and it was part of the strategy of ultra-conservative nationalist Steve Bannon.  He hopes to help Trump in the midterms by pushing the idea that America comes first, we don't need or want the rest of the world, and any form of internationalism - not to mention support of the Democratic Party - is tantamount to treason.  He will push it so hard that the Trump base shows up at the polls to punish the Democrats into total irrelevance, if not outright extinction.
In other words, something that should finally bring Trump down is only going to be used in an attempt to cripple the opposition.
And if this ploy works, God help us.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - June 22, 2018

"This Guy's In Love With You" by Herb Alpert  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Martha My Dear"

On the surface, "Martha My Dear," the song that kicks off side two of the Beatles' White Album, is a standard Paul McCartney ballad, with a sprightly piano introduction and a festive brass ensemble in the middle eight.  Based on a two-handed keyboard exercise that Paul employed to expand his musical abilities, the song is written in the tradition of English music hall that Paul has always loved.  But beneath the bright sound, there's a string section that dampens the mood a bit, and Paul's own vocal is rather forlorn; the song ends with the strings in isolation, sounding quite somber.  Paul seems to sing of this "silly girl" with a good deal of regret.  Clearly, something more serious is going on here.
And people thought this song was about Paul's English sheepdog?  
Yes, Martha was the name of Paul's dog at the time, but there is no connection between the dog and what John Lennon thought was a dog of a song, as Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn made that clear in his book about the group's recording sessions.  Lewisohn wrote that Paul "may have got the title from his canine friend, but that was where the association ended."
So who was Martha, really?  Dot Rhone, Paul's old girlfriend in Liverpool?  An amalgam of girls he'd known before?  The clue is in the song's final verse, when Paul reveals that this "silly girl" has always inspired him, and he urges her for the second time not to forget him.
Now who does that sound like?  Of course - actress Jane Asher, from whom Paul had recently separated.
Paul McCartney and Jane Asher were one of the most celebrated couples in sixties Swinging London.  Soon after they met, Paul moved in with Jane and her family in London, where they stayed together until they got their own place on Cavendish Avenue near the EMI recording studio complex at Abbey Road.  Their relationship was a series of highs and lows, though, which Paul documented in the songs about her.  At happier moments, she inspired Paul to compose beautiful ballads such as "And I Love Her" and "Here, There and Everywhere," but she also led Paul to write antagonistic songs such as "We Can Work It Out" and "I'm Looking Through You."  Jane wanted to devote more time to her acting career than Paul was willing to bear, and he wasn't prepared to make any sacrifices for her interests.  Nevertheless, Paul and Jane managed to persist for awhile, and it was taken for granted that they would eventually marry.  "If I marry anyone," Paul said at the time, "it will be Jane Asher."  Not good news for the many female Beatles fans who had a crush on Paul, and guys who had a thing for Jane weren't happy about that either.
They got engaged in December 1967, and they traveled together to India to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi in early 1968, returning to England part of the way through the Maharishi's course when they'd decided they had gotten as much out of it as they could.  But that summer, their relationship took a turn for the worse: Paul wanted Jane to give up her acting career entirely once they were married, and Jane quite obviously had no desire to do so.  Then a few months later, Jane returned to the house she shared with Paul on Cavendish Avenue in London earlier than planned and . . . uh, found Paul in bed with another woman (not Linda Eastman).  She broke off the engagement on a BBC Television talk show, essentially dumping Paul in public while Paul himself watched on TV.  "I haven't broken it off," she said, "but it is broken off, finished."
It's clearly obvious from hearing "Martha My Dear" that it is meant to be a farewell song from Paul to Jane.  Not just in the undercurrent of sorrow in the music, but in the words.  He acknowledges spending his "days in conversation," a possible reference to the LSD trips he took with friends at his house while Jane declined to drop acid, but he also wishes her well and lovingly advises her to indulge in some of what goes on around her, calling her a "silly girl" as a term of endearment and leaving himself with self-consolation that she may yet inevitably see that the two of them "were meant to be for each other."  The operative word here is "were," an acknowledgement that a reconciliation is unlikely - a point that a brief, sharp guitar riff from George Harrison (the only other Beatle on this song) makes clear by leaping out over Paul's sentiments.  Jane Asher took this much advice from "Martha My Dear;" she was good to him by never publicly speaking of embarrassing details about their relationship.   
But why does Paul call Jane by the name of his English sheepdog?  Is he trying to say that Jane Asher is a bitch?  Not at all; Paul obviously wanted to call her by another name to protect the innocent, he needed a bi-syllabic feminine name to fit the meter, and Martha, because it was the name of his dog, was readily available.  He could just as easily have referred to her as Laura or Thelma.  A private man, Paul McCartney is known for writing songs about real people but calling them by pseudonyms.
Jane Asher, for her part, was was not vengeful or bitter over her breakup with Paul.  "I know it sounds corny," she said, "but we still see each other and love each other, but it hasn't worked out. Perhaps we'll be childhood sweethearts and meet again and get married when we're about 70."
Of course, that would never happen.  Paul went on to marry Linda Eastman in 1969.  Jane Asher has been happily married since 1981 to illustrator Gerald Scarfe (you know the art work for the sleeve of Pink Floyd's The Wall? him), and when Linda McCartney died in 1998, Paul eventually found someone else after getting over his grief.  Unfortunately, his marriage to his second wife, Heather Mills, was a disaster apart from producing a daughter (Beatrice McCartney), and by the time Paul turned seventy he found happiness again with another wife, Nancy Shevell.  Jane Asher refuses to entertain questions about her relationship with Paul, finding such questions "insulting" (and who can blame her?), and Paul is only slightly more agreeable to revisit his and Jane's shared past.
Oh yeah, Paul has given three different answers about who "Martha My Dear" is about.  He once said that it is about his English sheepdog, but he has also admitted that it is "probably" about Jane Asher, and another time he said it was about his "muse" - the voice in his head that guides his songwriting.  Trust me - it's about Jane Asher.
At least, in writing "Martha My Dear," Paul gave female Beatles fans with that name - perhaps the dowdiest English-language feminine name in Christendom, a name commonly associated in America with wives of the Founding Fathers - a song of their own to request DJs to play on the radio or at holiday parties.  John Lennon may have hated this song (John on "Martha My Dear" - "Enough said!"), but he failed to appreciate what the song meant for Paul and for his breakup with Jane.  John was being, well, a silly boy.
Below is Paul McCartney in early 1968 with who were then the two most important females in his life.

And we all know that "Martha My Dear" is about one of them. :-)