Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Hero of 'Yellow Submarine'

I had hoped to write more about the fiftieth anniversary of the movie Yellow Submarine, which I first wrote about in July, between then and today, today being the fiftieth anniversary of the the animated Beatles movie's American release, but circumstances prevented me from doing so.  Today, though, I am happy to revisit the topic once again in pay tribute to the movie's greatest hero - its art director, Heinz Edelmann.
A lot of talented people worked on the Yellow Submarine movie, including the Beatles TV cartoon director George Dunning, who contributed worthy ideas of his own such as the "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" sequence, which traced over old black-and-white film footage from an old musical.  But it was Edelmann set the tone and feel of the movie with his splendid use of color and lines.  Edelmann's style was notable for its liberal use of color and its sweeping, flowing lines in his drawings.  He had begun his career as a freelance illustrator in Germany, developing ads and theater posters. But it was his work with the German youth magazine twen, where he worked from 1961 to 1969, where his talents rally blossomed.  His illustrations captured the spirit of the emerging postwar generation in Western culture, and he was the perfect choice to oversee the development of Yellow Submarine.  His work was as much an illustration of the sixties as it was an illustration of the Beatles at the height of their powers. 
For the longest time, though, Edelmann, who died in 2009, didn't get the credit he deserved - because it want to someone who didn't deserve it. Edelmann's style was so similar to that of American pop artist Peter Max that many people mistakenly believed that Max had been the Yellow Submarine movie's art director.  Max had in fact done some Beatles-related illustrations - including an interpretation of the Rubber Soul song "The Word" (below) and had apparently been in contact with Yellow Submarine produce Al Brodax about possibly contributing to the animation, but Max in fact had nothing to do with it.
So what?  A mere misunderstanding by the fans, right? Well, what was so bad about that?  This: While Max never said he worked on the Yellow Submarine movie, he never said he didn't, either.  That is, he let people think he worked on the movie.  This infuriated many Beatles fans, and it aroused George Harrison's indignation; Harrison came right out and said that Max had made a career on the mistaken assumption that he was Yellow Submarine's art director.
Fortunately, the historical record as been corrected, and Heinz Edelmann is recognized today and for all time as the artistic genius behind the Yellow Submarine movie.  Max produced a good deal of fine work himself, including a U.S. commemorative stamp for the 1974 Spokane world's fair that is one of my favorite U.S. postage stamps of the seventies I'm a stamp collector), and Milton Glaser, another artist of the psychedelic age, also came up with some pretty good illustrations.  But Heinz Edelmann set the standard for the great illustrations of that era, and his creations - including his greatest, the Yellow Submarine movie - are indicative of a bold, daring style that we will never see again.
I hope to say more about this great movie later on.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Quo Vadis, Martin?

I watched the election returns come in this past Tuesday night looking for clues as to whether former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, who backed numerous state and local candidates all across the country through his Win Back Your State PAC, would run for President in 2020.  With the knowledge that Win Back Your State was as much about building up O'Malley nationwide as it was about building up the Democratic base, my metric was simple; if the Democrats did well, he would run, and if they didn't, he would choose not to run.
The result on Tuesday night was mixed.
While the Democrats did gain 32 seats in the House and are likely to gain more as votes are counted and certified, and while they flipped seven governorships, they were less successful with state legislatures, Win Back Your State's main focus.  They gained about three hundred seats, but Republicans still control about three-fifths of the state legislative chambers.  The bright side?  The Democrats go into 2019 controlling the governorship and both legislative houses in fourteen states, a net gain of six.  But that's still far short of what the Democrats need to produce meaningful change at the state level.  O'Malley didn't concentrate his efforts on the U.S. Senate as much as he concentrated on the state legislatures, the governorships, or U.S. House seats, and with good reason; the Senate map favored Republicans from the start, and the GOP may end up adding at least two additional seats.  And Democratic hopes of retaking the Senate may be a long shot for years to come, given the growing Republican power in the smaller states, as Dylan Matthews of Vox.com explains.
And then there's O'Malley's home state of Maryland.  Democrats retained control of the legislature, called the General Assembly, but Republican governor Larry Hogan won re-election and gets another four years to undo O'Malley's legacy.  O'Malley spent practically zero time in his home state, but then the Democrats didn't need his help to maintain control of both houses of the General Assembly.  But former NAACP president Ben Jealous, Hogan's Democratic opponent, sure could have used his help.  O'Malley's decision to keep his distance from Jealous, whom he did not back for the Maryland gubernatorial election, reflects badly on the former governor.  While I suspect that O'Malley did not back Jealous because he believed he was going to lose, some wags have opined that the real reason O'Malley kept his distance from Maryland is because he's still deeply unpopular as an ex-governor, and that his support for Jealous or other Democrats would have hurt rather than help them.  And truth be told, O'Malley's failure to secure then-Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown's election as his successor in 2014 despite Brown's consistent lead over Hogan in the polls was likely the first blow against his 2016 presidential hopes.  Democratic leaders looking for an alternative to Hillary only had to see the 2014 election results in Maryland - and O'Malley's plummeting approval rating - to shake their heads and look elsewhere.
O'Malley helped Democrats make great strides in state elections, to be sure, but so did other political action committees. Win Back Your State deserves credit for its efforts at building up the party, but other groups will also take credit, diluting O'Malley's stature. 
Also, there are the unknown variables involving O'Malley's competition. All eyes are on Beto O'Rourke possibly running for President in 2020 after his loss in the U.S. Senate race in Texas to Ted Cruz.  There are several other possible candidates, many of whom have been getting the sort of repeated media exposure that O'Malley can only envy.  Of course, Beto may not run, and some high-profile Democrats considering at presidential run, such as Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, have embarrassed themselves in the public eye - Harris and Booker with their grandstanding during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings that ended up helping the Supreme Court nominee win confirmation, Gillibrand for her naked power play against Al Franken - while other prospects such as Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are seen as past their prime.
What O'Malley may have going for him this time is something I alluded to in my earlier comments about the 2018 elections.  I noted that progressives who were nominated for office, including Jealous, lost decisively and that the Democrats have been warned not to nominate a progressive presidential candidate.  Except that earlier Democratic efforts at moving to the center - in presidential and down-ballot elections alike - have also fallen short.  O'Malley represents a third alternative, a platform with progressive policies - infrastructure, opposition to the death penalty, expanded homosexual rights, a tough line on guns - with an approach to building consensus and getting things done that centrists can admire.  That third way didn't get any attention when he ran against progressive Bernie Sanders and the centrist Hillary Clinton, but maybe after four years of Donald J. Trump, O'Malley's political philosophy may get another look from rank-and-file Democrats.
In short, O'Malley's chances of running for President in 2020 are, well, 50-50.  My take is that he can still run and he can still win - but it won't be easy. 
So, Governor, are you in, or are you out?  Where are you going? 
I await the answer.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

World War I Armistice Centennial

In honor of the fallen. 
Armistice Day, Armistice Day . . .  that's all I really wanted to say . . .. :-(    

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Blue Rising

I gotta tell ya, I was nervous Tuesday night when the returns came in.  It was obvious soon enough that the Democrats were going to take back the House, but I got nervous when Florida Democrats fell short in their bids to win the governorship and hold Bill Nelson's Senate seat.  And I was on the verge of melting down when I saw that Scott Walker was winning his bid for a third term as governor of Wisconsin over Democrat Tony Evers while Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly was going down in Indiana and Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was losing big time in Missouri.  Beto O'Rourke could not unseat Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate election.  And when I learned that the insufferable Marsha Blackburn was elected to the Senate from  Tennessee, I wanted to throw up.
But the Democrats have won more House seats than originally thought, as the votes continue to be counted. And something interesting is happening in the uncalled Senate contests.  Rick Scott's lead over Nelson in Florida is so tenuous that a recount is likely.  Ditto for the gubernatorial election there. Andrew Gillum has conceded, yet a recount could actually put him in the governor's mansion after all.  Well, it would be easy for him to move there from his house, as he is the mayor of Tallahassee.  But voting shenanigans in Broward County have led Governor Scott to try to stop the process - which would certainly benefit his candidacy!  
And despite his self-serving efforts to block a recount, Scott may have a case. Brenda Snipes, the woman in charge of elections there, is notorious for screwing up the vote count.  Even progressives are angry with her.  (She supposedly helped rig the Broward County vote for Debbie Wasserman Schultz's 2016 re-election bid!) 
Be that as it may, Florida's elections haven';t been decided yet, and neither has the Arizona Senate race between Krysten Sinema and Martha McSilly - uh, McSally.  If Sinema, the Democrat, wins, and if Nelson should somehow pull through in Florida - and if Democrat Mike Espy somehow pulls off an upset in the runoff for the Mississippi special Senate election -  the Republicans would have a net gain of zero in their majority Senate caucus.  But who cares when Wisconsin voters, by a narrow margin, sent Scottzo the Clown packing!

Among the victories I did not see coming: Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine winning the governorship in that state - at the age of 71 - on the same day Sherrod Brown, who defeated DeWine's bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate back in 2006, win his third term in the U.S. Senate; Kansas electing a female Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, over phony voter-fraud crusader Kris Kobach; Mark Sanford's old South Carolina U.S. House seat going to Democrat Joe Cunningham after Trump Republican Kate Arrington won the nomination over Sanford for the seat and ran like she was the Donald's best friend, and: Democrat Lucy McBath in Georgia defeating Republican incumbent  Karen Handel for the seat in the state's Sixth U.S. House District, the same seat Democrat Jon Ossoff attempted to win in a special election last year.  Meanwhile, a runoff in the gubernatorial election in Georgia between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams is still possible.
Despite Republican successes here and there, the Grand Old Party faces strong headwinds going into the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. Trump is toxic; the Democratic victories this past Tuesday were a clear expression of displeasure in the way he's "governed" this country.  Democrats, meanwhile, have been warned not to nominate so many progressives - and certainly not one for President - next time around, as so many progressive nominees, especially Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland, lost big time.  I'm of two minds about that, particularly where it pertains to the presidential election in 2020.  I'll have more on that later. 
Oh, yeah, Mikie Sherrill was elected to the House from my district.  So let's celebrate the first Democrat to be elected to the House from New Jersey's Eleventh U.S. House District since 1982.  
Ladies and gentlemen, Rebecca Michelle Sherrill!
Oops!  Hold on, I'm still mixed up . . . 
There we are . . . ;-) 

Friday, November 9, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Revolution 9"

"Revolution 9" is the longest - and also the most controversial - Beatles track ever released.  (Eight minutes, twenty-two seconds, or 8:22.)  An offshoot of John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's work with avant-garde art, it was their attempt to sonically depict a revolution against the system.  It was derived from the last six minutes of the full ten-minute rhythm track of Take 18 of "Revolution 1," that take providing the master recording of "Revolution 1" for the White Album.  In those final six minutes, John produced some strident guitar noise while screaming, All right, all right! Right! Right!  Right!" over and over while Yoko muttered various phrases.
Along with that, John, Yoko, and Abbey Road technicians assembled and compiled various tape loops and spooled them onto tape machines.  John and George Harrison even created new vocal tapes for the collage.  John then mixed them altogether to get the magnum opus that appears on the White Album.  
How on earth do you write about a track like "Revolution 9"?  If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then writing about a tape-loop collage is like using mime to describe quantum physics.  But there is a definite structure to how the sound effects evolve and build up as the track progresses.  Even if sound collages aren't your cup of tea, you have to concede that John clearly knew what he was doing.  As Tim Riley noted, none of this was random.  A trajectory was mapped out - either in advance or as John went along.
Before we get to that, though, I must acknowledge the compère of this sonic excursion: the faceless voice repeating the words "number nine."  John heard it on an exam tape for the Royal Academy of Music - the voice artist was announcing the ninth question on the test - and thought it was, in the words of Abbey Road tape operator Richard Lush, a real hoot.  So John made a loop out of it, fading it in and out of the mix at will.  As spooky as it sounds when it kicks off the track with a plaintive piano in the background, what makes it spookier is that no one knows who the voice belonged to.  The exam tapes for the Royal Academy of Music were disposed of long ago, and so there's no way to identify the voice artist who recorded them.  It's a voice out of nowhere, calling from some long, distant past that was already long and distant by 1968. The Beatles and other musicians of their ilk had found success without having to go to some silly, elitist music school.
The intensity of "Revolution 9" is set by the muted, ironically contentious dialogue that precedes it, which is a studio control room recording of Beatles producer George Martin asking Beatles assistant Alistair Taylor about a promised bottle of wine and Taylor apologizing to Beatles producer George Martin for having forgotten it.  They resolve things with Taylor asking, and Martin granting, forgiveness, for a laugh - "Cheeky bitch!" Taylor says as the "music" begins.  The piano and the repeated words "number nine" suggest, to first-time listeners, an intro to an orchestrated, aggrandized version of the song "Revolution."  John, cheeky bitch, quickly makes it clear that we're listening to nothing of the sort as soon as other elements of sound enter the mix and start to ratchet up the tension.  Loops of string instruments, choirs, and repeated classical riffs filter in and out before a cacophony of horns takes over and leads into voices fading in and out, John and George offering random phrases in half-heard conversations.  A disgruntled population of souls yields to and enters into samples of music spinning backwards and forwards.  A woman's laughter turns into a child's panting (at about 1:58 into the track).  Screams from "Revolution 1" briefly take over in isolation.  Auto traffic goes back and forth.  Children are crying.  People are ready to revolt.  Something is going to happen.  There's a call to arms that gets repeated - "Hey . . . everybody!"  Voices of authority try to reassure us that all is well ("They are standing still."  "That's wonderful!")  And that damned voice keeps reminding us we're in "number nine, number nine . . ."  At about 4:01 into the track, another number is announced: "Number thirty!"  Part of a head count of the foot soldiers in the revolution John and Yoko are depicting?  (Not a reference to the number of tracks on the White Album, which wasn't finalized until long after this track was finished.)   A few seconds later, at John's goading ("All . . . right . . ."), a crowd cheers and, at 4:27, the strings subsequently swell up against the horns.  It keeps building, building, building . . ..  Then, at the five-minute mark, all hell breaks loose.
The roar of a crowd takes over everything, sounding as if a government building - a palace, a prison, Parliament - is being stormed.  A baby's cry is turned on; the pace of the car horns quickens as people yell and march . . . and that's when everything really goes off the rails.  The cracking of plaster (at 5:43) is followed by the sounds of gunfire, explosions, and buildings collapsing, while the choirs keep singing. As the dust settles, John contemplates the aftermath in terms of reality ("industrial output . . . financial imbalance . . .") and, as the classical piano piece "Revolution 9" began on quietly returns, lost innocence (the Watusi . . . the Twist . . ."), while George pines for a greater ideal ("Eldorado").  And then . . . "Take this brother, may it serve you well!"
"This" is a melody of piano notes that suddenly falls apart into static before collapsing completely with a fist on the keys, leaving a shell-shocked Yoko Ono to pick up the pieces.  From her disjointed prose, a sense of defeat and disillusionment emerges, as operatic voices leap out from the catacombs behind her.  An initially spirited piano riff turns mournful and fades into Yoko's final thought . . . "If . . . you become naked."
"Revolution 9" is, as John realized after the track was put together, anti-revolution.  The structure of the piece and the strategic mixing in and mixing out of the sound effects paint a picture of the destruction that John had said in the single release version of "Revolution" he clearly wanted out of, a sonic equivalent of Guernica, Pablo Picasso's mural responding to the Spanish Civil War (which the bad guys won).  It's an anti-war message, albeit a pretentious and self-indulgent one.  As you can gather, I have a love-hate obsession with this track.  And while many other Beatles fans simply hate it, many find it fascinating, no doubt in a morbid way, trying to explain and interpret it.  And then there were those who heard it and thought that John Lennon had gone completely off his rocker (my mother heard a bit of "Revolution 9" and dismissed it as "sick John Lennon crap").  One of those people was George Martin, who was no fan of sound collages and found them non-constructive.  Geoff Emerick confessed to finding it interesting, although, he added, "it seemed as though it was as much Yoko's as it was John's. Certainly it wasn't Beatles music."  But then there was also Beatles author David Quantick, who called the track "one of the most exciting recordings ever made . . . the most radical and innovative track ever to bring a rock record to its climax."  Really.
Incidentally, "Revolution 9" did not get its title from the fact that it fades out part of the way through the ninth minute, nor did it get its title from the "number nine" loop.  EMI studio documentation shows that John was calling this piece "Revolution 9" from the moment he started gathering sound effects, before he stumbled on the "number nine" voice, and before he could have known the timing of the final master.  Nine simply happened to be John's lucky number.  He was born on the ninth of October, he first lived at 9 Newcastle Road in Liverpool, Brian Epstein first saw the Beatles perform at the Cavern in the ninth of November, which used to be the ninth month (hence its name), and the Beatles made their debut on Ed Sullivan's variety show on the ninth of February.  And in 1974, the same year John's solo song "#9 Dream" peaked on the Billboard charts at number nine, his greatest nemesis, President Richard Nixon, who tried to have John thrown out of the United States, resigned his office on the ninth of August.  Also, John noted, nine is the highest single-digit number.  After that, it's back to zero.
Paul McCartney's reaction to "Revolution 9" is worth noting.  When Martin insisted that the track be cut from the final album, Paul sided with him.  But Paul was by no means opposed to sound collages.  He'd made a few himself, under the influence of German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.  He collaborated with John on a sound collage for the Carnival of Light show in London in 1967 at Abbey Road during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, much to the consternation of George Martin. Martin couldn't remember that session twenty years later (and told Beatles author Mark Lewisohn that he didn't care to!), and he'd reacted to the Carnival of Light session the way a father might react to a twelve-year-old son's silly drawings and doodles on scrap paper.  Many Beatles fans suspect that Paul didn't want "Revolution 9" on the White Album because he didn't want John to take the credit for being the group's chief innovator with sound collages, while others thought that he didn't think John's piece was good enough.  More likely, it was because of what Emerick said - it wasn't Beatles music.  Paul's only objection might simply have been, and probably was, based on the opinion that such avant-garde excursions didn't belong on a Beatles record.  Besides, John and Yoko put out their own sound-collage record at the time of the White Album's release - Two Virgins, the album with the controversial cover of John and Yoko in the nude. But, of course, putting such a piece of musique concrète on a Beatles record would ensure that Beatles fans would hear a sample of the genre at least once, whereas Two Virgins was destined not to be a big seller (though it did chart higher than some of Ringo Starr's solo albums would).

Beatles author Dave Rybaczewski notes the importance of the placement of "Revolution 9" as the penultimate track of the White Album, a position "meant to leave the listener awestruck and in a jaw-dropped condition."  That it did.  And once fans got over their initial shock, those who had the stamina to hear it again (and again and again, just like the voice uttering "number nine" again and again) did so with the intention of seeking out new sounds they hadn't heard before.  Sometimes this meant playing "Revolution 9" backwards; other times it meant hearing it with one of the speakers turned off (most people bought the White Album in stereo).  Or cranking the volume up full blast, which probably blew a few speakers.  Even today, fifty years later, listeners can still find new sound effects they hadn't heard before.  I'm still trying to find that loop of George Martin instructing Geoff Emerick to "put the red light on."   And there ain't no rule for the company freaks.  (I'm still trying to find that quote in the mix, too.)  And after all of this radical avant-garde stuff,  listeners would inevitably need something soothing to listen to afterwards to close the album . . . something more conventional, more conservative, with, say, a Mantovani-style arrangement.  Hmm, now what sort of song could fit the bill?  A lullaby, maybe?  ;-)


"Revolution 9" fades out with a crowd of spectators at an American football game exhorting the home team to intercept the visiting team's attempt at a field goal ("Block that kick!").  The symbolism is obvious. The people have resumed their silly games. The revolution is over. It failed.

Music Video Of the Week - November 9, 2018

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by the Beatles  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Out of Sessions

I've never seen so many liberals shed tears not of the crocodile variety over the forced resignation of a racist, reactionary Attorney General.  Jeff Sessions was not an icon of equal justice under law, but he showed integrity in recusing himself from the Russia investigation, allowing for the appointment of Robert Mueller as special prosecutor in the investigation.  Now this new clown Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist and a Mueller critic,  is the acting Attorney General and is poised to find a way to undermine Mueller in a way that Trump never could before Sessions was forced out.
Popular wisdom is that if the Democrats had gained control of the Senate - which was never going to happen - Trump wouldn't have forced Sessions out the day after the election.  That's correct.  If the Democrats had taken back the Senate, Trump would have forced Sessions out a week after the election.  The possible expansion of the Senate Republican majority, depending on how elections in Arizona and Florida turn out, only emboldened Trump, as his belligerent attitude in his last press conference ("Did you see Trump's last press conference?"  "I hope so!") demonstrated.
But Democrats have just regained control of the House (I'll talk about that later), and they are getting ready to pick up where Mueller may be forced to leave off.  I'm not for impeaching Trump for as long as there's no evidence to warrant impeachment, but I am all for the investigation.  Just because there may not be any evidence of Trump colluding with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election doesn't mean Mueller and the Democrats don't have to look.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ten Years Gone - No, Wasted!

Remember ten years ago today, when Barack Obama was elected President?  Remember when we were n the cusp of a golden age?  Remember when we were at the dawn of a positive, enlightening era?  Neither can I.  Because almost as soon as Obama took office, it was back to business as usual.  Then it got worse - Citizens United, the Tea Party, the rise of voter suppression and cuts to social programs an amenities, the return of climate-change denial (marginal risk of severe thunderstorms in the New York area - in November! - this Election Day) and a bunch of centrist weenies in the Democratic Party who lost the House, the Senate, governorships, and then gave us Hillary Clinton, the last brick in the road to hell taken by Donald J. Trump.
So what went wrong?  Obama couldn't coordinate his Organizing For America's abilities to get Democratic voters activated and engaged with the Democratic National Committee's abilities to . . . to . . .to . . ..  Well, I don't know what the Democratic National Committee has the ability to do, except write off blue-collar voters and rig the primary vote for its preferred presidential candidate (the latter ability failed them in 2008, when Hillary first ran).  And that golden age?  Last time I checked, there are no high-speed passenger rail lines, no universal health coverage, no sensible gun laws, no sensible auto fuel-economy standards, no support for the arts, none of that stuff.   And ten years to the day after we elected our first black President, the Republican candidate for governor of Georgia, who is also the Georgia Secretary of State, is investigating an unsubstantiated charge of the state Democratic Party trying to hack the state voter registration database to thwart the election of the nation's first black female governor.
Dear Democrats:  This is your last chance to get it right.  If you screw up this time, you are going . . . to Whig . . . out.  And no one will miss you.
And in a hundred years,  it won't matter who the first black President was.       

Saturday, November 3, 2018

This He Believes

Two years from today is the next presidential election, the day we get a chance to throw Donald Trump out of office.  And even though Martin O'Malley hasn't said he will run for President again, he is beginning to act like a candidate for the office.
The former governor of Maryland has launched a series of videos on his YouTube channel, the series called "This We Believe," which features videos of O'Malley explaining in clear, concise terms what he stands for and what the Democratic Party should stand for.  He's doing a pretty good job of enunciating his policy positions, but his presentation seems to be a little flat.  One fellow O'Malley supporter I befriended on Facebook says that they play like corporate training videos from the eighties ("Quality") and have the same bland background music, and I have to agree to some extent.  Though I would suggest that those corporate training videos from the eighties had better music.  Bear in mind that the biggest complaint about O'Malley is that he's Kennedyesque without the Kennedy part.  He's just . . . esque.
Be that as it may, it's still very early, and O'Malley is only getting started in his efforts to (re)introduce himself to a Hillary-smitten Democratic electorate that couldn't be bothered to get to know him in 2016.  He has time to improve his messaging.  A thousand-mile journey (or a thousand-kilometer journey, in case the next Democratic President makes Lincoln Chafee Secretary of Commerce and allows him to pursue his cherished goal of making the metric system official) begins with one step, and this step on YouTube is O'Malley's start of a journey that will get him elected President of the United States two years from today.  This, I believe.
To access Martin O'Malley's YouTube channel, click here.      

Friday, November 2, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - November 2, 2018

"I Can Play That Rock & Roll" by Joe Walsh  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Cry Baby Cry"

John Lennon told official Beatles biographer Hunter Davies that he'd gotten a slogan from an advertisement that went "Cry baby cry, make your mother buy," and he thought he could make a song out of it.  That song made it onto the White Album, and it's the last song John would ever write under the influence of Victorian children's literature.  
"Cry Baby Cry" is a sly little song that presents a social satire in the form of a deceptively fanciful nursery rhyme.  Based on "Sing a Song of Sixpence," John's song starts out painting a quaint picture of a king and queen who engage in activities designed to please others, like the king making breakfast for the queen while she plays piano for their children.  The music starts off as sweetly as the words, the sound dominated by am acoustic guitar, light piano and, courtesy of George Martin, a harmonium.  The elders of this royal family of the fictional country of Marigold, though, are utterly clueless, living in their own little bourgeois bubble without a care in the world and involving themselves in irrelevant activities.  As "Cry Baby Cry" continues, Paul McCartney's bass and Ringo Starr's drums and percussion become pushier, coming down hard at the conclusion at each line.  George Harrison's lead guitar gets especially biting as John snidely observes the duchess of Kirkcaldy (an actual town in Scotland) being tardy for tea time while her husband has issues - "problems" - at a local pub.  
The last verse of "Cry Baby Cry" finds these silly adults gathered around the table for a seance with the children exploiting their silly beliefs and practices by pretending to be spirits from the great beyond - "voices out of nowhere put on specially by the children . . . for a lark!"  The music has gotten more vicious, not only making clear the same contempt John has for the stuffy ruling classes that George displayed in "Piggies" (albeit with greater subtlety here), but also illuminating the paranoia the ruling classes have toward the younger generation.  "As a metaphor for the fear the youth culture's sounds instilled in their parents," Tim Riley wrote in "Tell Me Why," "'Cry Baby Cry' is an underrated Lennon royalty satire;  it's his most accomplished Lewis Carroll pastiche."
And it's also inspired rather novel counterculture art, like the late Alan Aldridge's illustration of the song.
I don't get it either.
The verses revolve around the refrain of "Cry baby cry, make your mother sigh, she's old enough to know better - so cry baby cry." Each recitation of the refrain seems to have more bite, and the beat is more pronounced here than in the verses.  The message of the refrain lyric is obvious: Mum can't be bothered with her kid's tantrums after having seen adults purporting to be her superiors romp through the landscape making fools of themselves.  So trouble your mother all you want, little baby; she's seen it all.
Such a sophisticated song would be a feather in the cap of any pop songwriter, but John actually disliked "Cry Baby Cry" so much that he denied having written it.  ("Not me," he said of the song in  1980, "a piece of rubbish.")  But it's a clever song in so many ways, particularly with how the vocal and the music begin simultaneously and, apart from a piano echo, end together definitively.  And just like that, the song is over.
Except that it isn't.
*     
The Beatles throw in an unexpected song fragment after the moment of silence that follows the dying moment of "Cry Baby Cry."  Conceived by Paul, it's a subdued tune with lyric a along the lines of "Can you take me back where I came from?".  Paul's vocal sounds apparitional, and the light percussion adds to the sense of unease.  Is it a coda to "Cry Baby Cry," with Paul wishing to return to childhood innocence? Or is it a preamble to the White Album's next track, the sonic collage "Revolution 9" - a request from the Beatles to go back to the primordial understanding of music as the art of sound?  It's neither, of course.  As we already know, it's an excerpt of the nineteenth take of Paul's ballad "I Will," an improvisation Paul came up with when at a loss for how to proceed with the song he was working on with John and Ringo (who played percussion) - which, you'll remember, I first mentioned in August when I wrote about "I Will" itself.
So why is this song improvisation here?  Here's my explanation, which I admit may be the wrong answer (but I doubt it).  See, as noted before on this blog, John and Paul (below) agreed when they were compiling the White Album that neither one of them should have more than two tracks in a row, yet they somehow ended up with side four having three consecutive tracks at the end that were composed by John.  To avoid running afoul of the aforementioned sequencing rule, this ad-lib from Paul was inserted between two of those last three tracks.  The ad-lib, I might add, was taped long after "Cry Baby Cry" and "Revolution 9" were finished.
But it's not entirely random that a piece of "I Will," Take 19 (yeah, yeah, I know, I'll take nineteen what?) ends up being the extra recording that breaks up John's domination of side four.  There were other improvisations from Paul from the "I Will" session that could have been used.  This one befits the unsettled mood of side four, with its songs about revolution, the aftereffects of overindulgence, and royal seances; Paul's pleas to return to from whence he came suggests a wandering soul looking for a place to rest.
Beatles author Dave Rybaczewski adds an interesting perspective on how "I Will," Take 19 fits in.  "This section works nicely here," he writes,  "especially because the beat coincidentally is the same as the body of the song we just heard. It also creates a creepy atmosphere that leads perfectly into the cacophony of sound that follows it on the album."
As for the ad-libbed song itself, it's a look into how Paul's mind works and how effortlessly he comes up with song ideas.  It also demonstrates, alas, how he doesn't follow through on enough of his ideas.  He could have written a masterpiece of a song based on the idea of returning to where one came from (a challenge accepted by Rod Stewart and Ron Wood when they wrote the classic title song for Stewart's Gasoline Alley album).  But it's still an intriguing bit piece, operating like a link in much the same way as "Wild Honey Pie" does on side one. And as Tim Riley pointed out, it shows how the Beatles were so prolific in 1968 that they could come up with more material than is necessary for a double album.   
Here's the full Take 19 of "I Will."
            

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween?

No, no. no.
With fifteen bombs having been sent to prominent American figures, a synagogue in Pittsburgh having been shot up by an anti-Semite, and Donald Trump still stoking fears of "others" while threatening to invalidate the citizenship birthright clause in the Fourteenth Amendment - and even threatening to deport American-born children of illegal immigrants! - it doesn't seem right to wish anyone a happy Halloween.
Halloween is about being scared for the fun of it.  There's no way we can be scared for fun when reality is scaring us every damn day. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Decline of the Democratic National Committee Explained

If the Democrats manage to win back the House of Representatives and take over eight governorships next week, it will be no thanks to the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Let me explain how the DNC declined and fell like the Roman Colosseum.
Under DWS, when the political careers of many Democrats went RIP,  the DNC went DOA.
In 2016, when the DNC got in trouble for tipping the scales for Hillary Clinton's presidential nomination, and DWS was Xed out, the party had to turn it up a couple of DBs.
 And once America got the DTs . . .
. . . the Democrats TP'ed themselves in response.
And so many rank-and-file Democrats are disillusioned, they want to go running to Mom.
Maybe they should consider running to M'OM.
Because, through his Win Back Your State PAC (don't you hate those silly initials?), Martin O'Malley has learned what voters want and what voters are concerned about.  Unlike the Democratic National Committee.  If the Democrats do well in this election, thank Martin O'Malley, and pay attention to what he says if and when he runs for President again.  
Listen to your M'OM.
Win Back Your State.  Because the DNC won't.  

Monday, October 29, 2018

Election Endorsements 2018

Oh, great, is it election endorsement time again?
I should just tell you all to vote Democratic no matter what, except vote Green when the Democratic candidate is a woman named Hillary or Oprah.  And yes, I'm going to do that.  Vote Democratic, exceptions noted.  But I'm also going to single out candidates for office in campaigns where I especially want to see the Republican candidate lose and lose big time.  That's how much I dislike them. And in the case of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, I literally hate him.  So here goes:
For U.S. Senate, Texas:  This blog enthusiastically endorses Democrat Beto O'Rourke.  Not only is he the most ardently progressive candidate for statewide office in Texas in a long time, he has the energy and the commitment to help Democrats running for office throughout the state and to inspire them throughout the country.  Also, his opponent is incumbent Republican senator Ted Cruz, a man even arch-conservative Republicans don't like.  Time for some Cruz control in the Lone Star State.
For governor of Wisconsin:  This blog endorses Democrat Tony Evers. Evers, the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction, wants to improve education in the state - and a whole lot of other things.  Education is one of the many institutions in Wisconsin that der Führer WalKKKer has laid waste to in the past eight years.
For governor of Georgia:  This blog endorses Democrat Stacey Abrams.  She's committed to making a Georgia a fairer and better place for all of its residents, and she's also living proof of Zerlina Maxwell's comment that it's going to take a black woman to save America - or at least Georgia - from itself.  Also, her white male Republican opponent, Georgia Secretary of State and noted vote suppressor Brian Kemp, has all the charm and compassion of an electric eel. 
For U.S. Senate, Arizona: This blog endorses Democrat Krysten Sinema. She's talking about issues people care about, like making sure that pre-existing sanctions are covered by health insurance, while her Republican opponent Martha McSally (who, being a woman from the Southwest and because of her name, would have made a great running mate for Martin O'Malley - get it? - in 2020 if she were a Democrat) keeps trying to change the subject to that stupid caravan issue - which isn't an issue at all.  
For U.S. Senate, New Jersey:  This blog, ho hum, endorses Democrat and incumbent Bob Menendez.  Because when you have two ethically dubious 64-year-old guys from Union City, New Jersey named Bob running for Senate, you should always go for the one with the D after his name.  
For governor of Florida:  This blog wholeheartedly endorses Andrew Gillum, who, if he wins, will make Florida the largest state in population with a black governor, but also the second-largest state in population (after California, which is a gimme for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom) with a progressive governor.  Florida needs bold, new, energized liberal leadership that it's been lacking since, oh I don't know, Reubin Askew was governor in the seventies?  Now's the time for the Sunshine State to come of out the darkness of Republicanism and Democratic centrism. 
For U.S. House, New Jersey, Eleventh District: This blog endorses Rebecca Michelle "Mikie" Sherrill.  Republican Jay Webber supported that federal tax reform law that screws New Jersey, he doesn't believe that women have any rights, and he gets a good rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA).  Mikie Sherrill will fight to restore federal tax deductions for New Jersey homeowners, support equal rights for both sexes, and fight the NRA.  You can trust her.  She has an honest face.
See?

Oh, mercy me, where is my head?  That's actually a picture of my Olympic heartthrob, champion swimmer Janet Evans. This is Mikie Sherrill.
They do look alike, don't they? :-D 
Right.  Those are all of my endorsements.  You know the drill - vote on November 6. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Mad Bomber

The likely package bomber who terrorized CNN and anti-Trump public figures, one Cesar Sayoc of Florida, was caught after only a few days, but the madman in the White House, Donald Trump, is still at large  - and acting at his rallies (wait - he's still having rallies during a national emergency?) like the bomb scare is an inconvenient joke designed to stop the latest Republican surge of momentum, which it might.  Or it might not; the idea that it's a joke might even make the Republicans septuple down on voting a week from this coming Tuesday.  As evidence of that, Trump supporters in North Carolina were waiting yesterday in the middle of the pouring rain just to see Trump at his rally there.  Does anyone on the Democratic side command that sort of devotion? 
Be that as it may, Trump should be leading and uniting the nation at a time of crisis as the nation's patriarch, just as I'm sure that Hillary Clinton, one of the bomber's intended targets, would have been had she been elected to be the nation's matriarch.  Instead, he's mocking his opponents, dismissing the media, and trying to change the subject back to whatever it was before this bombing story broke.  And while he may not have started the rumors that Cesar Sayoc is a Democratic operative sending these bombs as a hoax to make Republicans look bad, they are spreading so fast and being pushed so relentlessly by Fox News - "Fascinating," says Fox's Martha McCallum speaking of this conspiracy theory as if it were fact - that it's easy to see why Republican momentum hasn't been dampened any.
The Democrats will likely have the vote of every thinking person on November 6, and I hope that means they have a majority.  I hope this bomb scare - or, more appropriately enough, Trump's reaction to it - motivates Democrats as much as the Kavanaugh hearings motivated Republicans.  There's a precedent for that; then-House speaker Newt Gingrich's efforts to keep Republicans motivated in the closing days of the 1998 midterms by playing up Democratic President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky angered Democrats so much that they voted in greater numbers than usual and helped their party gain seats in the House (but not the majority) in a year where the party controlling the executive branch was supposed to lose seats in the legislative branch.  (The Senate remained unchanged that year, 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats.)  As a result, Gingrich  quit his speakership and his House seat.  So, again, I would encourage Democrats to react to Trump's bullying and his insensitivity to the bomb scare (the Cintons and the Obamas shouldn't wait up nights for Trump to call them with words of sympathy for having bombs being sent to them) by voting en masse in the midterms.  Otherwise, the Democrats will look even more irrelevant than they do now.
And Robert Mueller will be out of a job.
The 2010s have been a disastrous decade for Democrats.  More ominously, though, this decade - which started with the Citizens United decision from the Supreme Court - this decade has been a disastrous one for the nation.  Don't blow it this time, Democrats!  

Friday, October 26, 2018

Package Bombs Away

Twelve package bombs sent to CNN, retired intelligence officers and Democratic politicians  - and Robert DeNiro -have been intercepted by federal authorities before they exploded.  All of the intended recipients have been among Donald Trump's biggest detractors, and Trump has bashed them personally of late.  Trump isn't responsible for these bombs, but someone out there has been inspired and emboldened enough to terrorize Democrats and other Trump critics on Trump's behalf.
I thought this would be a game changer for a suddenly emboldened Republican Party hoping to capitalize on the very anger that led some bomber to act.  Maybe it will be.  But there's no indication that Trump himself is going to back down from his hateful rhetoric, and he and his most ardent supporters have even suggested that the bombs were sent by a renegade Democrat to make the GOP in general and Trump in particular look bad.  Some Trump fans have even suggested that there are no bombs - that the whole story is faked.  And Democrats, who have been down in the dumps all month despite polls in their favor mostly holding steady, don't seem - yet - to have found a proper way to respond.
Perhaps it's better that the Democrats don't go overboard in response.  The bomb story is enough to get people to see what's happening.  There are all of these incendiary devices out there, and Trump keeps trying to focus on a phony migrant caravan story by sending active troops to the border with Mexico.  The public should demand more of a focus on this bomb investigation and should say they they've had enough of this insane political hate-mongering.  Also, the Democrats still have the health care issue in their favor, as if that alone weren't enough.  Joe Biden - who, at the moment at least, isn't running for anything - has struck the best tone and delivered the best message.  Don't be afraid of terrorists, he says. Don't be afraid of Trump. Vote.
I'm going to.   

Music Video Of the Week - October 26, 2018

"Frankenstein" by the Edgar Winter Group  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.) 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Savoy Truffle"

There aren't any songs on the Beatles' White Album about buildings, but there is one song about food.
Singing the verse of his song "Savoy Truffle," George Harrison sounds like he's reciting a dessert menu from one of London's poshest restaurants . . . and heralding the availability of such exotic sweets as "good news."  Well, if you're an American, that's how you might have first heard it.  In fact, George was singing about the flavors in a box of chocolates - called "Good News," an assortment  of chocolates with cream fillings.  The Good News brand was to Britain what Russell Stover and Whitman's Sampler are to America.        
Good News chocolates, made by the Mackintosh company, were a favorite of Eric Clapton, who was said to reach for a box of candy as easily as he would reach for his guitar. Alas, his obsession with chocolate would prove to be indicative of an addictive personality, as his later battles with heroin and alcohol bore out.  Clapton's chocolate addiction was so severe that his dentist warned him that he'd have to pull out all of Clapton's teeth if he kept eating more candy.
The verses of "Savoy Truffle" mention the various flavors in a Good News chocolate box, including the title itself - and for those who don't know, "montelimart" is a form of nougat that originated in the town of Montélimar in southeastern France.  George made up other flavors to fit the rhyme scheme and meter.  "Savoy Truffle" is an ostensible admonishment of Clapton's inability to control his sweet tooth and a warning to him to stop eating so much candy before it was too late, but it has a couple of other messages in it to consider.  George's song warns us that we indulge too much in the sweet pleasures of comfort food in the form of materialism and that we fail to keep check on our appetites at our own peril, heading toward ruin.  But he's also warning us against indulging in too much of other sweet things - ideas, entertainments, amusements, political platitudes - that provide cheap satisfaction but don't enlighten us.  Rather, such sweetness dulls our senses and dumbs us down.  (To put it into contemporary terms - think of Donald Trump as the political equivalent of a Twinkie.)  Too many sweet things are not only bad for our bodies, but also our minds.
The lyrics of "Savoy Truffle"'s second bridge verse underscore the serious message in what many take to be a less-than-serious song. "You know that what you eat you are," George sings, "but what is sweet now turns so sour."  How true, as we ultimately regret our most excessive indulgences when we're recovering from the aftermath.  (Beatles publicist Derek Taylor suggested the former line, inspired by the title of the American counterculture film You Are What You Eat - which in turn, was named after the old saying that our bodies are only as healthy as the food we consume.) But then George turns on Paul McCartney to illustrate his disdain for sweet entertainment - "We all know Ob-La-Di-Bla-Da, but can you show me where you are?"  How subversive for George to put down his fellow Beatle - the chap who got him into the group - for his songwriting style by singling out the McCartney song on this record that John Lennon (who does not appear on "Savoy Truffle," ironically enough) and George hated the most.  He was biting the hand that fed.
(Pointless aside that I couldn't resist: The Beatles sequenced "Blackbird," "Piggies" and "Rocky Raccoon" in that order on side two as a joke, because all of the titles referred to animals or birds.  I have no doubt that "Savoy Truffle" follows "Honey Pie" because both song titles refer to desserts. :-D)
The music of "Savoy Truffle" serves the words perfectly, with a gritty soul-based arrangement that features some intense organ playing from Paul, steady, shuffling drums from Ringo Starr, and a stinging guitar solo in the middle eight, with a slashing chord repeated four times in rapid succession at the end that is much in the style of the coda of George's Rubber Soul tune "Think For Yourself."  But the heaviest - and the most heavily symbolic - feature of "Savoy Truffle"'s arrangement is the hefty saxophone ensemble that anchors the song.  It was George Martin's idea to have "Savoy Truffle" scored for saxophones - four tenors and two baritones - and Chris Thomas, an accomplished musician himself, went ahead and delivered.  And so did the saxophonists, delivering a fantastic, beautiful sound.  But George Harrison found the result too clean . . . too nice . . . too . . . sweet.  Having gotten the perfect sax ensemble sound, George instructed Abbey Road technician Brian Gibson to deliberately distort it with heavy overload, which made the brass sound dirty and crude.  As a result, the brass makes the same point as the lyrics do about all that is sweet.  And, in case you didn't notice, George's own vocal on this song is also distorted; it sounds like it's coming through a transistor radio from a low-wattage AM station.
George's treatment of a soul-based, brass-tinged rock song is in stark contrast to the ethos that would dominate a good deal of pop in the seventies.  Records became more polished and more pristine, as a new generation of producers would aspire to make popular music that would go down smooth - especially in Los Angeles, where recording artists would create perfect, seamless, flawless music as effortlessly as breathing.  As the seventies wore on, the Aphex audio company, founded in 1975, introduced its "Aural Exciter," an audio signal processor designed to sweeten sound, and its use became so predominant and derided that the Eagles, when they released their 1979 album The Long Run, emphatically stressed that they didn't use one, so intent were they at the time on distancing themselves from their LA soft-rock reputation.  One of the best-known purveyors of this sweetening trend in pop was James William Guercio, who established himself as the mastermind behind hit records from two brass-dependent pop-rock bands - Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago.  The hit singles these two groups generated weren't necessarily bad - I still crank up the radio every time Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4" comes on - but even their best songs are somewhat bland and predictable.  Think about it . . . if George Harrison had left the brass on "Savoy Truffle" alone, it would have been comparable to a Guercio production - and it wouldn't have been as memorable or as meaningful.
As fate would have it, Halloween will have come and gone by the time I'm back here to discuss the next White Album track.  Take it easy on the candy. ;-)  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

What the Hell Is Wrong With the Democrats?

The Democrats have an 85 percent chance of winning control of the House, at least according to Nate Silver.  They likely won't win back the Senate, but they stand a good chance at keeping the 49-seat caucus that they have now.  And the stand to win at least eight governorships. 
So why does it look like they're going to blow it again?
Democrats have been losing the momentum in the final weeks of the midterm campaign to the Republicans not just because of Judge K, the controversy over whom has died down somewhat since he joined the Supreme Court, but because Donald Trump is throwing out all sorts of non-issues - an immigrant caravan that's trying to get into the U.S. but can't even get though Mexico, Middle Eastern terrorists in the caravan, mom mobs - and they're resonating. Democrats have the high ground on several issues that are real but they're not throwing out anything.
And now it turns out that the majority of early voters are . . . Republicans!
Democrats had been cautioned not to talk about Trump but instead talk about issues that matter.  Many of them apparently were counting on anti-Trump sentiment to carry them over the finish line.  Except that Trump now has a 47 percent approval rating - not great but higher than the 46 percent of the vote in 2016.  And the economy?  Democrats were counting on low wages to help them. Wages are starting to tick up now.  Republican chances of holding the House, which is still statistically unlikely, may be ticking up as well.  The Democrats have talked about health care but have failed to realize that this is not the only issue voters care about.  Trump hasn't talked about infrastructure lately - but neither have the Democrats. And even though no one in their right minds would be for illegal immigration, Democrats can't bring themselves to come out against it while stressing that they only want to expand legal - legal - immigration because they think that co-opting the Republican talking point against illegal immigration will alienate Hispanic interest groups.  This is ironic, because Democrats haven't been reaching out to actual Hispanic voters.
Democrats may have a chance to preserve their prospects for the House of Representatives thanks to Trump's latest lie.  He says that Congress is ready to pass a middle-class tax cut resolution in the coming week, even though taxes are decreed by law and not by resolution and Congress isn't in session right now anyway.  Democrats have an advantage on the middle-class tax issue.  Now's their chance to call Trump out on an issue that they can win on.  But will they do it?  (One candidate who likely will is New Jersey Democratic House candidate Mikie Sherrill, who, running in my district, has made taxes the centerpiece of her campaign.)
Twenty eighteen is not a presidential election year, but the ghost of Winfield Scott, the last Whig presidential candidate, could unexpectedly hover over the Democrats in two weeks and change.  The Democrats, despite Trump, could still . . . Whig out.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Hell's Broke Loose In Georgia

And Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp deals the cards.
Kemp, whose job it is in Georgia to regulate statewide elections, has been using all sorts of tricks to keep, last time I checked, 30,000 people from voting in this year's gubernatorial election - all because a few names on the rolls are spelled wrong by a letter or two.  Kemp, a Republican, is apparently afraid that there will be too many Democrats going to to the polls and voting for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams, pictured below. 
Now why would Brian Kemp be scared of a nice lady like this being elected governor of Georgia?
It's not because her name sounds Jewish, is it?
Oh, mercy me, where is my head?  It's because she's black - like 70 percent of the registered voters Kemp has purged from the rolls.  He's also dong this to strengthen the hand of the Republican gubernatorial candidate, who happens to be . . . Brian Kemp!
Abrams is promoting an agenda to make Georgia a fair, just state (note that I didn't say see was promoting and an agenda to make it "more" fair and just), and Kemp clearly believes that the worst thing Georgia could have is a black woman running the show.  I can think of something far worse - letting Brian Kemp run the show.  He makes Trump look civilized, what with his own anti-poor, anti-immigrant agenda.  He's promised to go out through Georgia and apprehend and deport illegal immigrants himself with his own pickup truck.
I must say, it took the Democrats guts to nominate a black woman for the highest office in the Peach State, but it may be paying off; early voting in Georgia has tripled over the number of voters in 2014.  Polls give Abrams a slight edge, although Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.com site rates the race as a toss-up.  After having tried and failed with running Jimmy Carter's grandson Jason for governor in 2014 and running Sam Nunn's daughter Michelle for the U.S. Senate that same year, Georgia Democrats are eschewing dynasty politics and trying something different, which may enable them to do something they haven't done in a long time - win an election.  (And also bear in mind that Jon Ossoff is Not.  Running. For Anything.  Again.)  But as long as Brian Kemp is calling the shots over how elections are run in Georgia, Abrams' election is anything but a guarantee.
Though, if he rigs the vote, at least Georgia has its own Jimmy Carter to monitor the recount. ;-)   

Monday, October 22, 2018

Not Another October Storm!

Storms in my neck of the woods in late October are becoming as reliable as the sunrise itself, because, as fate would have it, the greater New York area could very well see another nor'easter toward the end of this month.  This storm is not expected to be anywhere nearly as bad as either the 2011 Halloween nor'easter or 2012's Hurricane Sandy, but with a lot of rain predicted along with wind gusts of up to forty miles an hour or more, it could be bad enough.
And if that sounds like something I said this time last year, it kind of is . . . I said something similar just before a storm hit our area in late October 2017 (although we emerged unscathed from that).
The bright side of this year's potential storm is that it will be a rainstorm, not be a snowstorm like the 2011 "event," so we won't have to worry about snow bringing leafy tree limbs down.  The down side is that not only have most of the leaves not fallen where I live, most of them haven't even changed color - ironically, due in part to the summer rains the trees soaked up.  And any gusty winds we get in this potential storm could make the leaves act like sails and blow lots of trees over - because, despite a much-appreciated dry spell of late, the ground still hasn't dried out enough for the tree roots to re-stabilize.
I've already had two power outages this month - both on the same day! - as a result of rain that wasn't supposed to be all that bad despite its association with Hurricane Michael (which, of course, turned out to be worse than most of us originally thought it would be).  That makes 47 outages since November 2009 by my latest count.  Now we could get an even four dozen outages in total as of this time next week!
I'm beginning to really, really hate late October . . ..   

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Going West or Going South?

Everyone says that, as soon as Donald Trump is out of office, once there is a 46th President of the United States, American politics will go back to normal, and that we'd return to accepted standards of behavior.
This picture should dispel that rainbows-and-unicorns prophecy. 
You see, there was once a time when people thought that rap would come and go and we'd get back to accepted standards of popular music . . . and make music with guitars and pianos again, and tht pop stars would once again be required to sing.  Kanye West's continuing presence in our popular culture proves that we were wrong about the future of American music, but not as wrong as we might be about the future of American politics.
And both of those negative cultural tends met at the White House this month in a very unharmonic convergence.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Khashoggi Case

While it may not concern voters going to the polls in November because of meat-and-potatoes issues, the apparent murder of Saudi reporter Jamal Khashoggi may be a further thorn in the side of Donald Trump. Trump has had a transactional relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is apparently designed to further American economic interests at the expense of moral standards.  Trump has leaned heavily on the Saudis to help the U.S. maintain a presence in the Middle East and as part of a plan to isolate Iran, a strategy that none of our transitional allies have supported.  Trump hopes to help the Saudis  keep the oil flowing to keep oil prices relatively low so Americans can keep enjoying cheap gasoline should the Iranians be provoked into destabilizing the Persian Gulf region or be forced to sell less oil. 
Trump is willing to overlook the Saudis' disregard for human rights and their lack of tolerance for anyone who calls them in it, and that's what Khashoggi, whose sixtieth birthday was a week ago, did from his position at the Washington Post.  His fateful visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and the likelihood of having been murdered by Saudi government officials there, in a violent manner that could make Martin Scorsese blush, has led the Turkish government to start an investigation.
Trump has denied that his implication that the Saudis had nothing to do with the killing is a way of giving Saudi Arabia cover, despite the circumstantial evidence linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (considered a "reformer" because he let Saudi women drive) to it directly.  This speculation is based on Trump's possible financial interests in the country, which he, of course, denies having.  But he also wants to preserve a heinous arms deal with the Saudis.  He's only changing his tune on the Khashoggi case, saying Khashoggi "may" have been murdered, because even congressional Republicans find the Saudi royal family's posture incredulous. Trump's venal approach to foreign policy and his disregard for American democratic values have never been more pronounced than in this case, and that is giving his opponents yet another reason to turn out and vote in the 2018 midterms.  

Friday, October 19, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - October 19, 2018

"Time Will Show the Wiser" by Fairport Convention  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Honey Pie"

You want retrograde?  It doesn't get more retrograde than this.
"Honey Pie" is the only song from Paul McCartney on the fourth side of the Beatles' White Album, excepting an unlisted, ad-libbed song excerpt, and it provides the only jovial moment on a side dedicated to tracks that are frankly quite harrowing.  It's a charming pastiche of both the lighter side of the early American jazz of the 1920s and the English music-hall sound of the same period.  Not so coincidentally, the twenties were the time when Jim McCartney, Paul's father, was in his own twenties. An accomplished musician himself, Jim McCartney (below, with Paul) had his own big band in his younger days - called Jim Mac's Band - and even wrote a few tunes himself.  Music was always a sideline for Jim, but his example inspired Paul to take his own musical talent seriously.  (Paul's younger brother Mike was also a professional musician for a time, calling himself Mike McGear to avoid looking like he was cashing in on his famous brother's success; ironically, his own records got great reviews but did not garner great sales.)
"Honey Pie" is an old-time love lament, and as a song that sounds forty years older than it actually is, it's pretty darn convincing.  Against the sweet, soothing backdrop of clarinets and saxophones, Paul's narrator sings about an old girlfriend, calling her "honey pie" as a term of endearment.  Despite John Lennon's apparent cringing over "Honey Pie" when discussing it ("I don't even want to think about that," he said of the song in 1980), he performs a guitar solo here in the style of Django Reinhardt that's more incredible than credible.  (That's a compliment, son.)  George Harrison shows equally astonishing dexterity on six-string bass, with Ringo Starr providing delicate but firm brush work in his drums.  All of this is charming enough, but when it came time to record the vocal, Paul gave it the perfect finishing touches.  The first was cutting off the tape-machine signals at both ends of the frequency range with the sound of scratches from an old phonograph on the spoken lyric "Now she's the big time!" to make it sound like an old 78-rpm record.  The second was a music-hall-style lyrical improvisation in the middle eight.  I once thought Paul was singing, "I like this girl and her kind of music" - apparently, according to Mark Lewisohn, he was singing, "I like this kind of hot kind of music."  Either way, Paul shows a strong command for the feel and the rhythm of old-time jazz.
The lyrics of "Honey Pie" concern a young lad from the north of England, a lad not unlike our Paul, pining for an old flame who's become a movie star in Hollywood and wanting her to return to him.  In that sense, as I noted in my review of the White Album from May 2015, it's not unlike Fountains of Wayne's 2003 song "Hackensack," about a guy from New Jersey yearning for a girl he had a crush on back in school who's also become a famous actress.  Both songs are heartfelt valentines, and Fountains of Wayne must have been inspired by this song, especially Paul's penchant for the sort of strong bisyllabic rhymes one finds in "Honey Pie" - if Fountains of Wayne's lyric "I saw you talkin' to Christopher Walken" is any indication.  But while "Hackensack" addresses the girl directly, "Honey Pie," though ostensibly aimed toward a second party, is a summation of what this English lad wishes he could say to his old girlfriend, as he makes clear in the slow, muted introductory verse.  The sprightly tempo that carries "Honey Pie" thereafter is as much wishful thinking as the words.
"Honey Pie" was recorded at the same time as "Martha My Dear," and it's in the same vein musically, as it revisits the music of the period between the two world wars.  But there's another similarity.  As I already expressed my belief that "Martha My Dear" was a coded message from Paul to Jane Asher, I can't help but wonder if "Honey Pie" was also written as such a message.  Think about it; "Honey Pie" is about an estranged girlfriend who's an actress.  Does that sound like anyone you know?  True, Jane isn't from the north of England (she's from London), and no, she didn't go Hollywood (her brother Peter did, but that's another post), but Paul's narrator's insistence that his girl come home and leave her movie career behind sounds a lot like Paul insisting that Jane give up her acting career to please him.  And Paul's failure to give a little in order to get a little is reflected in the lyric "I'm in love but I'm lazy."  I'm not saying "Honey Pie" is about Jane Asher; I merely bring up the possibility.
"Hackensack" may be the more selfless of the two songs, as Fountains of Wayne frontman Chris Collingwood's narrator is stuck in Hackensack and unable to see his old love interest but patiently waits for her unlikely return to New Jersey, but "Honey Pie" is the stronger song and the greater recording.  "Hackensack," with its low-keyed college-indie vibe, is inescapably an artifact of the two thousand zeroes, a decade in which rock and roll's fading relevance became all too obvious.  "Honey Pie," on the other hand, is a timeless, richly arranged and composed song that could fit the playlist of WNEW-AM, for many years New York's premier big-band radio station, as easily as it could fit the playlist of its sister station in New York, rock station WNEW-FM.  (Both stations are long since gone, victims of changing tastes and the decline of locally owned radio in America.)  That's because the Beatles - who loved the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein as much as those of Leiber and Stoller - were the greatest rock band ever and Fountains of Wayne were merely okay.  What other conclusion can you come to, as we're approaching the 2020s and considering a song that could have been a hit in the 1920s - but was composed and recorded in 1968?      

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Jealous of Larry

It seems that every time the Democrats find candidates for office who have the answer to their problems, the candidates in question become problems themselves.  And nowhere is that more obvious in 2018 than in Maryland.   
Incumbent Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (left, above) faces former NAACP President Ben Jealous (right, of course) in the 2018 gubernatorial election.  Many Maryland Democrats are enthusiastic about the election and are ready to vote for their candidate, which should their candidate's campaign a huge boost.
The Maryland Democrats I am referring to - one out of three Democrats in the Old Line State - are Hogan voters.
Hogan has appealed so effectively to voters of both parties with a moderate posture (though he's far more conservative than he appears to be) that he's ahead of Jealous in polls by double digits - twenty percentage points, according to one survey.   There are two reasons Jealous is losing.  Here's the first.  Considered one of the most progressive Democratic nominees in this election cycle, Jealous hoped to appeal to Bernie Sanders supporters with his Sandersesque agenda - Medicare for all, living wage, and all that - while espousing his belief in a capitalistic society that encourages entrepreneurship and aspirations.  Right.  Jealous' progressive stands have alienated mainstream Maryland voters, and his support for capitalism - even a small-business-friendly, well-regulated capitalist system - has turned off the socialism-supporting young voters that is Jealous' base.  In short, he satisfies no one.
The second reason?  Jealous has comedian Dave Chappelle, his lifelong friend, campaigning for him.  Chappelle may be the funniest and most relevant black comedian since Richard Pryor.  He also may be the most controversial black comedian since Richard Pryor.  Chappelle may help Jealous with young, hip, urban voters, but he probably doesn't do Jealous any favors in the suburban areas Jealous needs to win.
As I predicted earlier this year, Martin O'Malley (below), the last Democratic governor of Maryland, who may yet be the next President of the United States, is nowhere to be found in his home state campaigning for Jealous.  Why? There are many obviously possible reasons.  First of all, Jealous was not O'Malley's first choice for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  (O'Malley supported Prince Georges County Executive Rushern Baker.)  Secondly, O'Malley is elsewhere helping state and local Democratic candidates for office and also talking and listening to people in advance of a possible 2020 presidential run; he attended a conference in New Jersey on urban issues earlier this week, in fact, and he was in Colorado campaigning for local Democrats just before that.  A third reason may even be that O'Malley's popularity in his own home state has declined since he left the governor's mansion in 2015, and so he may think he's not welcome back home. 
But the most likely reason of all may be that O'Malley knows that the only way Democrats are going to win back power is to advocate a pragmatic liberal agenda and not a quixotic one like what folks like Sanders and Jealous espouse.  I suspect that O'Malley refused to back Jealous for the Democratic nomination for governor of Maryland for the same reason he opposed Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid with a bid of his own.  He knew that Jealous, like Hillary, could . . . not . . . win.
It's a shame that his fellow Marylander, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez - who backs Clinton centrists over both O'Malley pragmatist liberals and Sanders democratic socialists - doesn't have the same innate ability to see who can win and who can't.