Monday, October 15, 2018

Beto Bet

I was just listening to a conversation on MSNBC about Texas Democratic Senate candidate and U.S. Representative Robert "Beto" O'Rourke (below) and how he's faring in his campaign against the insufferable Ted Cruz.  Despite raising more than $38 million for his campaign from voters all over America, he's behind Cruz by eight percentage points in the polls.
A pair of political strategists, one Republican and one Democrat, agreed that O'Rourke is impressive at inspiring people nationwide but, because Texas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate sine Lloyd Bentsen won his fourth and final term in 1988, always had an uphill battle.  The Republican strategist even said that Democrats wanted their money on a lost cause when their continuations could have gone to held imperiled Democratic Senate incumbents.  That is, Beto has more support outside Texas than in Texas.  He added that O'Rourke made a fatal mistake by nationalizing the race instead of talking about issues primarily concerning Texas, reminding Lone Star State voters that there is something worse than Ted Cruz, the least liked man in the Senate - a Democrat.
Former Democratic U.S. Representative Donna Edwards, responding to the strategists seemed to concede that O'Rourke will lose (like O'Rourke, Edwards gave up a House seat for a quixotic quest for a Senate seat), but she did say that the enthusiasm he's generated in Texas may help Democratic House candidates there.
As for the polls . . . well, I think there's a chance that Cruz could be upset in Texas, just as his fellow Cuban-American senator Robert Menendez could be upset in New Jersey (more on that later).  The polls don't show first-time voters in their surveys, and the young people in Texas fired up by O'Rourke could end up making the difference.  But if he loses, he is likely politically dead, like so many one-time losers on the Democratic side who have come before, and coming from El Paso and having a rapport with Hispanic voters will only help Beto if a future Democratic President appoints him to a Cabinet position.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Hot, Wet Disaster

The United Nations' Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change released a report this past week saying that unless the world acts in the next decade, there is no way we can escape the worst effects of climate change - longer heat waves, rising sea levels, persistent droughts, stronger hurricanes and nor'easters, and Florida falling into the sea.  Unless we do anything, the worst, most irreversible  effects would be felt as soon as 2040, a date no farther in the future than 1996 - the year of Bill Clinton's re-election to the Presidency, the Macarena, and Muhammad Ali lighting the torch at the Atlanta Olympics - is in the past.
See goodbye to Miami.  We ain't gonna do nothin' to stop climate change.
We Americans - a rather amoral, selfish confederacy of imbeciles, idiots, morons and circus pinheads - have made it clear that we have no interest in combating, or even believing in the existence of, climate change.  Well, okay, not all of us, but a majority of us.  And one of those climate-change deniers, a guy so stupid that he flunked recess in grade school, is President of the United States.
A sizable number of voters continue to reject presidential candidates who put climate change front and center among the policies they espouse.  Nowhere was that more obvious than when Al Gore was ridiculed for his climate crusade during the 2000 presidential campaign despite his strong credentials on the issue as a U.S. Senator and as Vice President. More recently, Martin O'Malley (if you're sick and tired of hearing about him, well, kiss my posterior!) made climate change a centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign, proposing initiatives such as having the Environmental Protection Agency adopt a zero-tolerance policy for methane leaks from fossil-fuel production, canceling Keystone XL pipeline, prohibiting further offshore drilling and drill leases in Alaska, ending fossil-fuel subsidies (which would make gasoline more expensive and force people to drive smaller cars), and setting the United States on course to be powered by 100% clean energy by 2050.
We all know what happened.  Just look at all of those SUVs with "Ready For Hillary" bumper stickers still on them.  
Right now the White House is controlled by greedy polluters who were all too happy to put the American pledge to honor the Paris Agreement through the shredder, and we have an entire political party that is so convinced that climate change isn't real that it disbanded a climate-change subcommittee in the House of Representatives when they regained their House majority.  If they acknowledge climate change at all, they think of it as what happens every three months with the equinoxes and solstices.  So, no, I see no future for getting serious about climate change . . . or the planet.      

Friday, October 12, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - October 12, 2018

"Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Revolution 1"

(The following is my somewhat reworded commentary from when I featured the promotional clip for the single release version of "Revolution" as my Music Video Of the Week back in August 2018.)

The Beatles' "Revolution" has a long, convoluted history.  It was recorded twice, with two different arrangements, and the group probably never intended to issue two different interpretations of the same song, at least not at first.  The Beatles' alternate interpretations of songs, such as the original version of the White Album's own "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," usually went into the EMI vaults.  "Revolution 1" got released on the White Album after the fast version of "Revolution" was released as a single.  John Lennon wrote "Revolution" in India in response to violent anti-Vietnam War protests in America and Britain and anti-government protests in France and even Communist Poland.  John was against war and against oppression by the elites, and he didn't think violence was the answer to violence and that anarchy was the answer to oligarchy.  He said he wanted these demonstrators to show him the plan for a free and just society before he signed on to their cause, vowing not to give either money to hateful demagogues or support for brutal autocrats.  The song reflected a mainstream liberal take on politics similar to that of Harold Wilson in Britain and Hubert Humphrey in America.  John wrote the song long before Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute at the Mexico City Olympics, and he also wrote it before the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations at the disastrous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago - which opened the day that the fast version of "Revolution" was released in the United States.  As it turned out, the Beatles were more in tune with the times than people already thought.
The song revolves around the chorus of "Don't you know it's gonna be . . . alright?", a reassurance that truth and justice would win out in the end. Many rock fans weren't so sure, and they dismissed the Beatles for their mainstream liberalism.  John would later become a radical leftist for a brief time in the 1970s, and he disavowed the song with a reference to it in his solo single "Power To the People" and later said he shouldn't have have slandered Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung in the lyrics of Revolution."  (When Mao died in 1976 and the effects of his brutal rule of China became more obvious, Lennon's original disparaging of the late Chinese dictator was vindicated.)         
The subdued, low-keyed version of  "Revolution" was the first song to be recorded during the White Album sessions - on May 30, 1968 - with the intention of making it the Beatles' next single.  The four-minute, thirteen-second master was made from the eighteenth take, which ran for ten minutes; the final six minutes were full of discordant guitar noise and screaming.  (This segment of the tape would be used to form the basis of "Revolution 9.")  But Paul McCartney and George Harrison told John that "Revolution," if it was going to be the next Beatles single, ought to be recorded as a song with a loud, heavy-rock arrangement, as that would make a more declarative statement against the anarchy going on in the world.  John took their advice and led the band through just such a recording, on July 9, 1968, with session keyboard ace Nicky Hopkins on electric piano.  It only ended up becoming a B-side because "Hey Jude" was too good not to be the A-side.  The slower version of "Revolution" - retitled "Revolution 1" because that was the first version to be recorded - was to be saved for the White Album, likely in the interest of filling the extra time.
Both versions of "Revolution" are great, though I think the heavy-rock version is better.  "Revolution 1" is still worthy in its own right; "subdued" and "low-keyed" don't mean it's easy listening.  The guitars are still gnarling and biting, though not distorted, and Ringo Starr's heavy beat grounds the song in a blues-based groove.  "Revolution 1" is also notable for doo-wop style backing vocals, callback choruses of the words "Don't you know it's going to be . . ."  and John responding to talk about destruction with "Don't you know that you can count me out . . . in."  (John later explained that he wasn't sure which way to go, because "we all have that streak of violence underneath.")  Also, on "Revolution 1," John sings "We'd all love to change your head." And, in addition, "Revolution 1" contains a brass section.  On the faster version of "Revolution", the backing and callback vocals are gone, there's obviously no brass, John makes it clear that he wants "out" of destruction, and John sings, "We all want to change your head."  However, in the vocal track used on the promotional video for the heavy-rock version of "Revolution," the lyrical differences in "Revolution 1" - the backing and callback vocals, the "out . . . in" lyric, the variation on the lyric about changing heads - were employed . . . and in the video it was Paul, not John, who began the vocals with an opening scream.
One more thing I can't resist mentioning: John recorded the lead-vocal track on "Revolution 1" while lying on the floor to give his voice a different effect.
Did it work?  It must have.  When I first heard "Revolution 1" on the radio, I, having heard and loved the single-release recording of "Revolution" and being at the time completely unaware of the existence of an alternate Beatles recording of the song, was thinking, "Who the heck made this record?"
Whatever the tempo or the arrangement, "Revolution" was the most elegant political statement the Beatles ever made.  As a final footnote, it's kind of funny to think that "Revolution 1" was the first song taped in the sessions for the White Album and meant for a single but became an album track, because, paradoxically, "Strawberry Fields Forever" had been the first song taped in the sessions for Sgt. Pepper and meant to be an album track but became a single.
That's rock and roll for you.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Haley the Comet

Nikki Haley is leaving her post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.  People are praising her for her service to Donald Trump, showing her independence while remaining loyal to the administration and demonstrating her diplomatic skills in standing up for American interests while earning international respect (!) for this country.   
Yeah?  How do you justify standing up for principles as eschewing concern for human rights and the climate?  How do gain respect for odious policies designed to push the rest of the world aside?  How do you explain support for Israel, whose egregious policies toward the Palestinians has made the Israelis global pariahs almost as great as we are?  How can anyone respect what this country does?  Haley has been defended for upholding traditional, pre-Trump Republican foreign-policy values at the United Nations, but it's worth remembering, considering the GOP's history of all of the overthrown Latin American governments, unnecessary Middle Eastern wars, and hostility toward international treaties governing everything from the rights of the disabled to maritime interests, that traditional Republican foreign policy was odious long before Trump.  Not that traditional Democratic foreign policy has been all that much better.           
And pundits are talking about Haley as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate.
Her biggest accomplishment was leaving her job with a lot of goodwill, unlike other Trump appointees who left prematurely.  She wasn't shown the door; she found it herself.  Some would say she's leaving at the right moment, what with Trump having had his best week yet.  Or, maybe she's leaving because she knows that things won't get any better than now.
American foreign policy today is the pits as far as I'm concerned.  (Paris Agreement, anyone?)  I find it quite nauseating.
Speaking of nausea, the Clintons are going on a pop-concert-style speaking tour starting next month.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Stormy Michael

Not a porn star and her lawyer.
It seems like, just when we thought the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season was waning, a new tropical cyclone named Michael has formed.  Originally a tropical storm, it's heading for the Florida panhandle as a hurricane.
But it was supposed to be Category 1 or 2 hurricane. Now it's supposed to be Cat 3 - major! 
We have now had as many named tropical systems at this time in the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season as we had at this time in the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season.  (Remember Matthew?)
As the most recent track indicates, it will likely weaken rapidly once it makes landfall, but it is still going to dump a ton of rain on the Carolinas - which is still trying to recover from Florence.  And while my area may not be affected by Michael, a line of thunderstorms - pushed by yet another strong cold front crossing the Northeast - will still dump over an inch of rain on our lawns and possible a whole forest of trees in our living rooms.  And if the two systems converge . . . :-O
Oh yeah, we on this planet have until 2030 to slow down climate change or we're doomed.  I'll address that story later . . ..   

Monday, October 8, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: The Power of Eight

At the end of July 1968, about two weeks after the Beatles moaned about EMI not taking the time to decorate Studio Two at the Abbey Road facility, the group retired to Trident Studios, an independent studio complex in the Soho section of London, for a change of scenery. At Trident, the group recorded the final master of "Hey Jude."  There they discovered the value of eight-track tape machines.
The Beatles started out with two-track tape - the music on one track, the vocals on the other - when they began recording for EMI in 1962.  They had worked with four-track tape since October 1963, and they were very adept at taking advantage of the extra tracks for overdubbing.  Now, at Trident,  while recording "Hey Jude," they realized that one could improve musical arrangements and add more instruments to make better records with twice as many tracks, just as they had found when making the transition to four-track tape five years earlier, and they were chomping at the bit to record on eight-track when they went back to Abbey Road.  It turned out that Abbey Road did in fact have an eight-track tape machine - a new 3M model, similar to the one pictured above - but it was kept in the office of EMI staffer Francis Thompson, who oversaw the acquisition of tape machines and didn't let anyone use them until he said they were up to par and ready to go.  As of the beginning of September 1968, when the Beatles learned that Thompson had an eight-track machine in his office, he had still not cleared it for use.  The group decided to go ahead and get it and wheel it into Studio Two.  Thompson be damned.
The first use of an eight-track tape machine on a Beatles recording at Abbey Road was the remake of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that appears on the White Album, followed by the remake of "Helter Skelter" that also appears on the record.  "Glass Onion" was the first song the Beatles recorded on eight-track from the start at Abbey Road.  (Not every song the group recorded in September and October 1968 was taped with an eight-track machine, but many of them were.)  The new machine did indeed allow the Beatles to add more instruments at will and mix out whatever didn't work, and it lessened the need to mix down the tape to less than the full number of tracks to free up one or two tracks for further overdubbing, but it didn't necessarily improve the quality of the recordings.  Hey, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper fared well with four-track tape, right?  And in fact, the Beatles over-recorded at least one song to the point where the drum sound was buried, so Ringo Starr, according to Abbey Road staffer Brain Gibson, taped for the song a drum pattern that he played on a plastic chair cushion to emphasize the snare beat.  Gibson could not remember which song that was.
Once the Beatles got the hang of eight-track recording, they showed restraint.  But pop musicians who followed them would be subjected to greater temptation to go overboard, as the number of tracks on tape kept increasing - soon after the debut of eight-track machines, 16-track machines were in use, followed by 24-track machines, 32-track machines, 64-track machines, and so on.  Some critics have charged that multi-track recording led to more professional but more antiseptic records, which ultimately took the heart out of rock and roll and led to the soulless pop records we have to deal with today in the post-rock era.  The Beatles were more judicious and more careful with multi-track recording than others, both as a group and as solo artists.  It is true that multi-tracking led to some overproduced records in the 1970s.  But even the records of that era were more soulful and alive than anything recorded on the 96-track digital recording machines that had taken over the music business by the late 1980s.     
And in using multi-track tape machines, John Lennon and Paul McCartney (above, at the Abbey Road mixing console), along with George Harrison and Ringo Starr, learned something that any comic-book geek will tell you - with great power comes great responsibility.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Kava-NUTS!

Brett Kavanaugh is a Supreme Court justice.
We all laughed, didn't we?  We all chortled when Kavanaugh lost his cool and made himself look like a bigger jerk than he was with the way he lashed out at his detractors.  But it led to the Republican base rallying behind him as ferociously as the Democratic base has rallied against him.  Democratic chances of taking back the House, while still good, have slipped a bit, and the Democrats' already slim chances of taking back the Senate have slimmed even further.  Some of the most odious incumbent GOP senators and GOP Senate candidates might end up winning after being behind in the polls.  And I don't even want to look at the polls in the gubernatorial elections.
Judge K - I've decided to call the new Supreme Court justice by his gangsta name from now on - was confirmed in the Senate by a vote of 50 to 48, tying Clarence Thomas for having the highest negative vote for a confirmed justice and getting two positive votes fewer than Thomas.  (Republican Steve Daines of Montana was at his daughter's wedding and Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska abstained, as she had voted against having the confirmation vote at all.)  When Thomas was confirmed in 1991, he at least offered regret for the contentiousness of the hearings stemming from Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment, standing out in the rain under an umbrella on the very night he was confirmed and expressing hope that the country could heal. Judge K didn't even do that. I'll come right out and say it; he's a prick.  
Judge K's confirmation comes on the heels of a good week for Donald Trump, having received a report of the lowest unemployment rate in nearly fifty years (not to mention the lowest wages) and a renegotiation of NAFTA with Canada and Mexico (not so much a renegotiation as it was the diplomatic equivalent of putting a different sleeve on a Blind Faith album), so he and the Republicans go into the final month of the midterm campaign with the wind at their backs.  That wind may very well be their own.  The Republican base has been fired up, yes, but the Democratic base - women, people of color, white men who don't have grievances against women and people of color and whose biggest complaint about today's America is that it's getting hard to find a decent radio station - is already fired up and will be fired up even more.  Now is the time to stop protesting Judge K's elevation to the Supreme Court - it's done.  Now instead is the time to start organizing the the November midterms and get out the vote.  Instead of marching in the streets, it's time to march to the polls.  And if the Democrats blow this one . . . you know the rest.          

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: Charles Manson

No discussion of the Beatles' 1968 double album, regrettably, is complete without a discussion of Charles Manson.  It nauseates me to get into his connection to the Beatles' White Album, but to ignore Manson when discussing this record is like ignoring the Trail of Tears while discussing Andrew Jackson.  It would be historically dishonest for me not to bring it up.
Here's the short version of how Manson came to hear the White Album's songs as messages to kill and initiated the killing spree that rocked California in 1969.  Manson was a one-time juvenile delinquent and ne'er do well songwriter who somehow endeared himself to Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys after Wilson had picked up two female hitchhikers who knew Manson.  He hoped that Wilson and Byrds producer Terry Melcher, whom he met through Wilson, would give him a break in the music business.  While all this was going on, he established a hippie cult comprised mostly of young women.
Manson came to believe that a race war in America was imminent following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and when he heard the White Album after its November 1968 release, he thought the Beatles were oracles for the coming conflict.  The song "Helter Skelter" was, to Manson, a call to arms against the white establishment, and "Piggies" instructed capitalists to be severely punished.  And even though Blackbird was, as Paul McCartney later said, a song about black women in America gaining their civil rights, Manson heard something far more extreme - a call for black revolutionaries to start the war against the white man.  "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," Manson believed, was the Beatles telling blacks to arm themselves and fight whites.  Manson heard "Honey Pie" as the Beatles instructing him to reveal himself as the prophet by showing the magic of his "Hollywood song."  He had similar interpretations of other White Album songs. 
And of course, Manson heard "Revolution 9" as a sonic depiction of the race war, and that the track's name referred to the ninth chapter of the final book of the New Testament: "Revelation 9."  He believed that eh Beatles themselves were in fact the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The Manson Family, as Manson's followers were known, tried in August 1969 to start the race war their leader had predicted by murdering high-profile people in California per Manson's instructions.  They murdered actress Sharon Tate - who was eight moths pregnant and married to director Roman Polanski - and her house guests, including coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and the next night they also killed supermarket executive Leno LoBianco and his wife Rosemary.  In each of the cases, the killers left behind messages written in the blood of their victims: "POLITICAL PIG" (from "Piggies") and "ARISE" from "Blackbird").  The killers were soon apprehended.   
The Beatles, of course, were deeply disturbed by all this, and John Lennon was particularly shocked.  He said that Manson was an extreme version of the people who started the "Paul is dead" rumors or thought "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" was an acrostic for LSD.  Paul McCartney found it "frightening" that Manson would arrive at such interpretations - "because you don't write songs for those reasons."  George Harrison lamented that people as horrible as murders were attached themselves to the Beatles when it wasn't the Beatles' fault.  Ringo Starr said that it stopped everyone in their tracks due to all the violence coming out "in the midst of love and peace and psychedelia."
Manson and three other defendants were tried and found guilty.  Manson himself was sentenced to death in 1971 but his sentence was commuted to life; he died in prison in 2017.  Some of Manson's other followers remained active in crime, and one female follower attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in Sacramento in  September 1975.  (Incredibly, another female radical who had nothing to do with Manson attempted to shoot Ford in San Francisco a couple of weeks later.)
Ironically, even though he is remembered as, as Geraldo Rivera called him, a "mass-murdering dog," Manson never killed anyone himself; all of the murders he orchestrated were committed by his followers.
Right.  That is all I want to say about this.  I don't want to talk bout it any more than I already have.  Those who want the full story can consult "Helter Skelter," the book on the Manson case by Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi.     

Friday, October 5, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - October 5, 2018

"Love Is Blue" by Paul Mauriat (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Long, Long, Long"

Some Beatles fans may think that George Harrison's Beatles song "Long, Long, Long," which closes side three of the White Album, is a song of love for a woman.  Others are adamant that it's a song of love for God, and George himself insisted it was.  Actually, it's both.
George pretty much summed it up in an interview with Rolling Stone in the 1970s.  "I think all love is part of a universal love," he said.  "When you love a woman, it's the God in her that you see.  The only complete love there is is for God."
And as proof that the White Album was a sneak preview of the Beatles' solo careers, George would write many more songs as a solo artist that author Nicholas Schaffner said are "ambiguous in that he could be singing either to his lady or to his Lord."
In fact, "Long, Long, Long" was the latest in a series of songs from George acknowledging his spiritual awareness.  "The Inner Light," the B-side of "Lady Madonna" and the first Harrison composition on a Beatles single, was about expanding one's knowledge through faith in the divine and not through travel and material experience.  Knowing the ways of the divine and having arrived without traveling, as George advised in "The Inner Light" (a song so obscure it didn't appear on an U.S. or U.K. album until 1980 and wasn't even widely available in stereo until 1988), and finding love for the divine through that faith is what "Long, Long, Long" celebrates.
The song itself is a self-conscious, deeply spiritual awakening with a moody guitar/piano arrangement (the piano played by the ubiquitous Chris Thomas) driven by Ringo Starr's emphatic drum pattern, while Paul McCartney's organ playing sets the tone.  George found inspiration in the devastatingly lovely melody of Bob Dylan's "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" (Dylan, remember, was George's best buddy after Eric Clapton) and in the more low-key tunes from the Band, whose debut LP Music From Big Pink was already encouraging rock musicians to return to the basics despite its relatively modest sales.  The verses find George at peace with his embrace of the ultimate universal love, and the more strident bridge and the intense coda find him celebrating his discovery of that peace.  Writer Ian Inglis specifically points to the bridge lyric "So many tears I was searching / So many tears I was wasting", noting that it describes George "rejoicing in his discovery of a deity to guide him through the vicissitudes of life."
The serene yet ecstatically joyous organ coda would have been more serene if not for the accidental discovery Paul made when he played the note that "Long, Long, Long" would make the transition to the final chord on.  When he struck the note, a wine bottle on a speaker cabinet started rattling, so the Beatles set up microphones and Paul hit the note again to record the rattling, which was compounded by a drum roll from Ringo.  The final guitar chord - a G minor 7 chord answered by a final beat from Ringo - is a chord writer Ian MacDonald considers "one of the most resonant [chords] in The Beatles' discography."
Some fans wonder if the original Beatles recording of "Not Guilty" would have been a better Harrison song to close side three of the White Album with, as it is just as menacing as any of the tougher Lennon-McCartney songs on side three but is also understated and measured, fading out rather than coming to a definitive end.  (Note that no side of the White Album closes with a fade-out.)  But "Long, Long, Long" does, after the bruising rock that comes before it, bring the LP's third side in for a soft landing, getting the listener in the necessary frame of mind for the final act of the White Album that is side four.  The ultimate sequencing of "Long, Long, Long" on the White Album is one of the many examples in which the guidance of producer George Martin on the LP's running order is valued, especially after the listener has been through thunderously loud songs that would later give bands as diverse as Foghat, Rush, and Molly Hatchet reasons for careers (and Uriah Heep a lame excuse for one).  It leaves the listener exhaling freely rather than sighing heavily.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Saving the Internet

In California, Governor Jerry Brown just singed a bill rendering the repeal of Net neutrality . . . neutered in his state.  Internet service providers in California now have to respect Internet neutrality by not slowing down some traffic and speeding up some other traffic and charging more for the faster speeds.  And no blocking of content politically objectionable to the service providers!
The U.S. Justice Department has sued to stop the re-instatement of Net neutrality in California, citing the supremacy of federal deregulation over state regulation.  It figures that Jeff Sessions would suddenly forget the beauty of states' rights now.
But then, Congress does have the power to oversee interstate commerce, and the last time I checked, the Internet providers who are in California are in other states.  So the Tenth Amendment may not be applicable here. But the First Amendment is, since the repeal of Net neutrality involves free speech.  
Let the court battles begin.  Ajit Pai may have thought the battle was over when he scuttled Net neutrality earlier this year, but I predict that it's only just begun.          

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Electric Shock

Elon Musk got into a little trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  It seems that he was accused of pretending to take his company private to increase the price of Tesla stock, and now he has to step down as chairman of the company's board of directors . . .but he can still be the chief executive officer.
Meanwhile, Jeff Sessions has apparently decided that Musk will not be arrested for smoking marijuana during a potcast - er, podcast. 
This is rather awkward for the only domestic competitor to what passes for Detroit's Big Three these days, as Tesla is all about the future while GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler are increasingly stuck in the past.  Ford and the Chrysler brand group have all but committed themselves completely to gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups, while GM pays lip service to developing more electric vehicles or even keeping the ones it already makes up to date.  We need Tesla to show the Detroit Three how to make electric vehicles, and profit from it.  You don't do that by causing the stock to be inflated.      
Did Musk lie?  More likely - this is just my personal take here - he wanted to take Tesla private and wanted to buy out the stock, but he didn't have the money.  He must have thought he had it, and he thus made a promise he realized too late that he couldn't keep.  It;'s not a lie if you believe it.
Whatever.  Anyway, I doubt Tesla will suffer from this setback too much.  It makes good cars, they're perfect in every way, and I say that from the experience of driving one.  Elon Musk is not the reincarnation of Preston Tucker, who had his own bad break with the stock-market cops and only built fifty of his sedans.  Tesla is indeed the future.  GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler ought to wake up and create more modern vehicles.            

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet (1968)

(The cover of the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet that the band wanted to use.) 
Leave it to the Rolling Stones to make the decline and fall of civilization sound cool.
Beggars Banquet is nothing short of a depiction of the dark side of the sixties dream.  The Stones' seventh studio album is fraught with images of sexual debauchery, deteriorating social mores, and anarchy, all brought to life by stinging guitars from Keith Richards and (to a lesser extent) Brian Jones and the steady crisp rhythm section of Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums.  The music explores the deepest recesses of American blues and explores unvarnished country sounds as well.  Topping all this off is Mick Jagger's incendiary, exaggerated vocals, with Mick teasing listeners with his elongated, lustful phrasing and his deep insincerity.
The album begins not with a vocal or an instrument but with a yelp, as the Stones go into "Sympathy For the Devil," a tease by the devil himself to get his listeners to admit aiding and abetting in his crimes against humanity as a sultry samba groove envelops the stereo spectrum.  Beggars Banquet proceeds with images of diminished dreams and voracious lust, from the slow, downbeat "No Expectations" and the somewhat light-hearted, country-tinged lament "Dear Doctor" (a song about a betrayal that, ironically, saves a man from having to get married) to the perversity of the steaming blues number "Parachute Woman" and the salacious "Stray Cat Blues," the latter a nasty, guitar-charged song appropriate a teenage sexual partner who gives as good as she gets.  The depictions of a young girl as a biting, scratching alley cat brought the pre-Altamont Stones as close to the edge as they could possibly go without falling over.
Dave Marsh identified the theme of Beggars Banquet as a vision of terrifying dissolution, and the music matches the Stones' vision.  But more importantly; so do the lyrics; the Stones not only acknowledge mores and morals falling apart, they revel in it.  The blatant chutzpah of the words and the sharp music complement each other and make the record all the more intriguing and exciting.  Jagger and Richards present a world where outcasts and misfits either enjoy the ride to the bottom or fight a losing battle to weather the storms, especially in "Jigsaw Puzzle," with its images of gangsters and bums on the edges of society with the Stones themselves while elderly ladies fight the law and the law not only wins, it takes no prisoners.  The strident guitar on "Street Fighting Man" is a call to arms, but the words openly question whether taking to the streets is any realistic solution to . . . what?  What are we rebelling against?  Beggars Banquet closes with "Salt Of the Earth," an ironic celebration of the lower classes that rock stars like the Rolling Stones can only pretend to relate to . . . and pretend to care about.  In a world where everyone is left to their own devices but are slaves to their own base interests, no one is exempt from damnation - not even the Stones.  And the Stones were brilliant in pointing that out.
Sadly, Brian Jones was a victim of the Stones' own vision. He died a few months after this LP's release.
(The cover the Stones were forced to use by their record company.  The cover the Stones wanted has since been used.)  
(I'll be back with more record reviews in November or December.)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Kavan-UGH!

I didn't watch Thursday's Senate Judiciairy Committee hearings on Brett Kavanaugh, but seeing the highlights on the evening news, particularly the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, made me wonder if it was time not for America to pack the Supreme Court but for America to pack it all in.
Dr. Ford - I know I called her Mrs. Ford before, but it turns out that she's a psychiatrist, so she's an M.D., hence the change of salutation - was credible and calm in discussing her story of how Trump's Supreme Court nominee assaulted her. Kavanaugh - who does not deserve a salutation - went on a partisan rant, blaming the Democrats for smear campaign against him and suggesting an attempt to get even for Hillary Clinton's loss to Trump.  The joke's on him - it was revenge for what happened to Merrick Garland, the Obama nominee who never got a hearing, and as far as revenge for Hillary, those of us who supported Bernie Sanders or Martin O'Malley have been pining for revenge against Hillary.  Or at least against Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Anyway, Kavanaugh came across as a mean, vicious, self-absorbed preppie snob who is all too happy to point the finger at someone else when he's held to task for his swinish behavior.  Some people compared his testimony to Clarence Thomas' response to sexual harassment charges in 1991, but I saw the Thomas hearings, and I'm here to tell you - and as someone who believed Anita Hill - that Thomas' response was measured and firm by comparison. Thomas, for all his pseudo-righteous pseudo-indignation, did not come across as someone who was about to fly off the handle.  Kavanaugh came across as an anger-management course dropout.
And, given his obvious fondness for beer, how many brewskis did he have before the hearing?
Things would have gotten even worse yesterday, when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend Judge K's nomination to the full Senate, but Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona made it clear that he wouldn't vote for final confirmation unless the FBI did a background check on Kavanuagh - which should have been done long ago and which Trump did not want. There will be a background check, and the confirmation vote will be delayed for at least a week.
Hope springs eternal for those seeking to stop Judge K with enough votes in the Senate against him.   But should he be confirmed, the only way to get him off the Court is to force him to resign after more crap about him comes out.
And it will. 
But whatever happens, I'm glad I have a passport.      

Friday, September 28, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - September 28, 2018

"Dazed and Confused" by Led Zeppelin  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Helter Skelter"

Paul McCartney was reading the American music magazine Guitar Player in late 1967 and came across an interview with the Who's Pete Townshend, who proclaimed that the Who's new single "I Can See For Miles" was the loudest, rawest, dirtiest record the band had ever recorded.  Paul decided that the Beatles had to beat the Who at their own game by coming up with something  louder, rawer, and dirtier still . . . and then found out that this would be an easy task when he actually heard "I Can See For Miles."  The Who's song does have some intense drumming as well as a stinging guitar riff centered on a single note, but it's rather mannered and sophisticated, especially in comparison to what guys like Jimi Hendrix were coming up with.  Paul was even more determined to come up with something really raw and powerful . . . because he liked the idea of making a lot of noise.
Paul got the idea of writing a rock song around the idea of going from a rise to a fall, from the top to the bottom, and he found the perfect metaphor in a helter skelter.  In British English, a helter skelter is an amusement-park slide (pictured above) that goes around in a spiral along a tower shaped like a lighthouse.  (American amusement-park slides tend to go down a straight line, usually with cascading waves.)  In American English, though, "helter skelter" is an expression signifying anarchy - the sort of anarchy that gripped the U.S. in 1968 - and one Charles Manson heard a sinister message in this song and other songs on the Beatles' White Album . . . but that's for another post. For now, let's just concentrate on the song itself.
"Helter Skelter" was originally recorded in July 1968 as a slow, steamy blues number, one take lasting 27 minutes and 11 seconds, the longest Beatles recording ever.  Paul decided to have another go at it that September, and this time he aimed at paring down the song to a reasonable length.  This September 1968 session was also the first session to be produced by Chris Thomas, whom George Martin - by 1968 working as a freelancer with his own production company - had brought in as his assistant at the start of the White Album sessions.  (Thomas got a job with Martin's company by writing him a letter asking about employment opportunities there.)  Now, with Martin on vacation and with Thomas having returned from his own vacation, the apprentice was in charge.  Martin thought that his protégé was ready to direct a recording session on his own.

As we have already seen, Thomas (above, in 1968) became an important player in getting the Beatles' White Album completed, having won the confidence of the group in short order once he got going.  But he got off to a rocky start here as a substitute producer; it seems that Martin had failed to tell Paul McCartney that the 21-year-old Thomas would be subbing for him before he left for a vacation, and when Paul arrived at EMI Studios before the other Beatles and found only Thomas waiting for him, the assistant explained the situation.
"Well," said Paul, "if you wanna produce us you can produce us.  If you don't, we might just tell you to f--k off!"
That pretty much set the tone for the song.  
The jagged, distorted electric guitar the kicks off "Helter Skelter" gives Paul the incentive to come in shouting, and as the band builds up behind him, he takes charge with an all-out scream that causes the whole soundscape to explode with punishing drums, heavy distortion, two lead guitars battling for supremacy, John Lennon's thunderous six-string bass, a devastating slide-guitar lick from George Harrison, and Paul's histrionically raucous vocal.  And it's immediately clear what Paul is singing about: sex, dirty sex, and pure unadulterated sex.  He wants his woman to know that he's ready to come down on her, warning her not to let him break her and telling her not to get so assured of her ability to keep up; he wants to do a dancer, and he ain't talking about no ballerina . . . and whatever his woman is, she ain't no dancer.  He's coming and coming down fast, and when he rides down that slide, he wants ecstasy.
I think Alan Aldridge's illustration of "Helter Skelter" explains the song perfectly.          
Look out, 'cause here she comes!
As if all that distortion and heavy playing weren't enough, the Beatles threw in some other tricks, such as employing a saxophone for sound effects (which sometimes sounds like a cat being tortured) and having Beatles assistant Mal Evans blare a trumpet.  The madness of the song led to madness among the Beatles, as when George ran around the studio with an ashtray on fire atop his head, in the style of British shock-rocker Arthur Brown.  The song climaxes (yes, I had to use that word) with Paul yelling out the start of a final vocal line, lowering the register of his voice as he goes to simulate a descent on a slide, followed by descending notes that bring the sound into a drone of sonic mud.  A high-pitched wail brings the music to life again, and "Helter Skelter" plods on through before it finally fades out.
Then it comes back in.  Still unsatisfied (yes, I went there), the Beatles continue for a few more seconds before everything collapses upon itself, leaving Ringo Starr to pick up the pieces.  After three huge cymbal crashes, an exhausted, exasperated Ringo roars like a dying lion in one final rally, screaming, "I got blisters on my fingers!"  The damage to Ringo's digits was real, and so was Ringo's anger; his scream was a form of blowing off steam in a recording that allowed the Beatles to vent musically, but it fit the cacophonic anti-masterpiece Paul sought to make, and so it was preserved as the song's end.  Lennon was undoubtedly pleased.  Just before Ringo's scream, he can be heard saying, "How's that?"  (On the mono version of the White Album, the song fades out but doesn't come back in.)
"Helter Skelter" is loud, it's obnoxious, it's dirty, and it's somewhat misogynistic.  It's also one of the greatest rockers ever made, and it set the template for the steamier and more lustful side of heavy metal, evident in songs such as Free's "All Right Now" and Deep Purple's "Highway Star."  And there were several other bands that tried to capture the thunder and lust of "Helter Skelter," most notably Kiss, but they were rank amateurs.  The band that could best approach the menacing sound of "Helter Skelter" with all of its sexual drive would be, of course, Led Zeppelin, which formed the same month this was recorded. 
The first time I heard "Helter Skelter" on the radio (I'd already heard it on the Beatles compilation Rock n' Roll Music, which I owned),  I was thirteen years old and riding in a car with someone else on a warm summer night, with the local FM rock station playing.  The next song that came on the radio was Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love."  It was the first time I ever heard Led Zeppelin.
The car I was riding in was a souped-up Chevrolet Nova SS.
Well, that makes sense! ;-) 
It also makes perfect sense that both songs would produce this astonishing mashup.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Cosby's Series Finale

Bill Cosby got the book thrown at him at his sentencing for sexual assault - three to ten years in prison, which, at his age, is tantamount to a life sentence.  The judge doubts that Cosby will be paroled  when he is eligible in 2021, because he believes Cosby has a mental disorder that makes it impossible for him to stop assaulting women - 59 according to one count, though some have reported a higher number.  And it's twice and halved again the number of victims who had come forward when the revered and much-loved fashion model Beverly Johnson added her name to the list - at which point I stopped believing Cosby's  denials, for reasons I explained back in December 2014.   
In the years before comedian Hannibal Burris put rape allegations against Cosby - heretofore whispered but not talked about in public - out in the open and exposed Bill's hypocrisy in lecturing inner-city blacks on how to live their lives, Cosby was regarded as a comic genius.  Sophocles once said that you have to wait until a man reaches old age to see how well he lived his life, right?  His legacy looks a whole lot less admirable even without the now-confirmed rape charges, as his namesake 1980s sitcom, which started out as a realistic depiction of domestic life, quickly became a black version of "The Brady Bunch," and many of his movies - particularly any movie he did after he stopped working with Sidney Poitier in the late seventies - are among some of the worst films ever made.  I read one of his books; it was mostly a rewrite of his stand-up routine, which was the same stand-up routine from the concert movie Bill Cosby: Himself.   Mark Twain he ain't.  The late cultural critic Paul Fussell noted how Cosby was "a master of overstatement," an appraisal no doubt prompted by Cosby's halting vocal delivery and his over-reliance on his fleshy facial muscles.  Whatever charm Cosby once had, he managed to lose long before his sexual-assault history was revealed.  
Yesterday, at the United Nations, the world laughed at Donald Trump, another American known for his dubious personal life.  The world, in fact, had been laughing at us long before Trump hijacked the White House, and Bill Cosby, a symbol of our popular culture for worse and for even worse, is just one more regrettable element of our national fabric. Good riddance.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Stormy

Nothing to do with Stephanie Clifford.
Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court is in greater jeopardy after a second woman, one Debbie Ramirez, claims to have been sexually harassed by Kavanaugh while they were both at Yale, at a dorm.  He apparently flashed her.  Kavanaugh may only have two allegations against him as opposed to dozens (I wonder if you all know who I'm talking about?), but two allegations may indeed be two too many when you're talking about a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.  (I'm not referring to the Lake County Courthouse in Leadville, Colorado, perched at an altitude of 10,145 feet above sea level.)  This could blow up big time.
Rod Rosenstein went to the White House after allegations were made  that he suggested involving the 25th Amendment too remove Donald Trump from office for being an idiot.  Rosenstein, who's no idiot himself, denies the charges and said he was being sarcastic in talking to then-acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.  Apparently Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly didn't think he was being very funny, because he got a dressing-down at the White House yesterday and has been told to return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when Trump returns from the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday.  A big-time blow-up, given the precarious state of the Russia investigation that Rosenstein oversees as Deputy Attorney General, is inevitable.
And if you think that's explosive, wait until Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly today.  We could be in a war with Iran before long. :-O
Meanwhile, a strong cold front running into warm, humid air across the Northeast tomorrow could produce storms so severe, I could once again lose my electricity for I don't know how long . . . and end up with a tree in my living room.
Thursday's weather is supposed to be much better. :-p
Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a (very) bumpy ride!         

Monday, September 24, 2018

Still Marching

I've been keeping up with Martin O'Malley as the 2018 midterm elections approach, following his efforts at helping Democrats win control of more state legislative seats and a few gubernatorial and congressional seats as well, as he marches on from one state to the next and contemplates another presidential run in 2020.
To be honest, there hasn't been much about O'Malley lately, apart from a few articles here and there, and there haven't been all that many interviews with him either.  Maybe that's to be expected - but likely not for reasons you might think.  No, he isn't getting any attention from the media as they drool over Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Joe Biden and other potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.  But that's probably because he doesn't have time for interviews with the press.  While other Democratic presidential candidates bloviate on TV news shows or preen in congressional hearings, O'Malley is out in the middle of the country, campaigning for local Democrats and building the alliances and connections he'll need for a 2020 presidential campaign.  Laying the groundwork for another bid for the White House at the grass-roots level is so much more important than strutting like a peacock on cable TV.
To get an idea of just what O'Malley is up to with his Win Back Your State PAC, I urge you to read this excellent aticle from Mileah Kromer of the Baltimore Sun.  In the meantime, whether news about O'Malley is frequent or scant, I plan to keep talking about him.  Somebody has to.        

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Gordon Lightfoot - Don Quixote (1972)

The image of Gordon Lightfoot on the cover of his Don Quixote album is that of the masculine troubadour, tassel-haired and bearded and looking confidently into the camera lens, as if he were posing for a cigarette ad.  Lightfoot presents himself, with guitar in hand, as a musician who is confident in his abilities as a singer and as a songwriter, someone who can stand his ground yet still display vulnerability.  
The songs on Don Quixote mirror the pose.  Lightfoot opens with a title song celebrating the impractical Spanish nobleman who upholds the virtues of honor and bravery, the taut guitar adding extra tension, and he then proceeds with adventures of his own, through love, life and loss.  Songs such as "Christian Island (Georgian Bay)" and "Alberta Bound" paint loving portraits of Lightfoot's homeland of Canada,  while personal confessions such as "Looking At the Rain" and "Ordinary Man" display a sensible self-awareness of his feelings. 
The music throughout Don Quixote works to Lightfoot's advantage, with the arrangements centered around acoustic guitars and a light, subtle string section.  Together, they produce a low-key sound that brings out the nuances of each note and complement Lightfoot's assured vocals.  A romantic himself like Don Quixote, Lightfoot is not a hopeless one; his delivery is refreshingly devoid of sentiment, and he brings an unvarnished honesty to every lyric he sings, whether he's singing about family memories in the sprightly "Brave Mountaineers" or the evils of whaling in the somber "Ode To Big Blue."  It's that quality that allows him to sing ballads with the same sincerity as in his topical songs.  Who else but Lightfoot could sing a tender ballad like "Beautiful" without sounding mawkish?  Only Jim Croce could come close, but Lightfoot had the stronger voice between them.
Don Quixote closes with a song challenging the romanticism that permeates the album.  "The Patriot's Dream" is an epic antiwar song that reduces the enthusiasm of serving one's country in wartime to the biter, shattered dreams of the dead and their survivors.  More like a call to conscientiously object to fighting than to join the charge, it turns the glory of war on its end and leaves the listener thinking about just how fragile self-confidence and romantic aspirations can be.  Unlike Cervantes' self-appointed knight, this Don Quixote sees the world as it is, and Lightfoot reacts accordingly.  Chivalrous and strong though he may be, Lightfoot presents a vision in which even the bravest acknowledge their frailties and fears.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Ford Tempo

Here's how the issue of Christine Blasey Ford's attempt to testify against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh  stand at this point.  After Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley set an arbitrary deadline for Mrs. Ford to agree to a time to testify and she and her attorney held out for demands to benefit her ability to present her case, the chairman kept setting the deadline further back.  And further back,.  And further back.  And so on and so on, until Mrs. Ford finally agreed to testify, and now she and her attorney are in the process of negotiating the particulars. 
What caused Grassley to be more accommodating? Probably Donald Trump's tweet in which he wanted to know why the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which would investigate Mrs. Ford's claims of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, didn't hear from the accuser in the early 1980s, when the assault was supposed to have taken place.  Once reminded that the FBI doesn't involve itself in sexual-assault cases involving people who have not been appointed to the judiciary due to the fact that they are teenagers, Trump then asked in a follow-up tweet why she and her "loving parents"  (his words) didn't report the assault to local authorities in Maryland, where Kavanaugh and Mrs. Ford lived.  Well - thousands if not millions have people who had been sexually assaulted took to Twitter to explain why they never reported cases of assault - because they involved family members, a star student, an employer . . . and fear of retribution was a common factor in all of these cases.  They feared not being believed or having the blame deflected to them if they were believed.
Nevertheless, the Senate Republican caucus seems hell-bent on getting Kavanaugh confirmed, and with a couple of renegade Democrats, they're likely to pull it off.  But Christine Blasey Ford can still pursue a case against Kavanaugh even if he makes it onto the Court, and what might ultimately happen is that Democrats can "Fortas" him.  I refer to what happened to former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas. who in 1969 was shown to have accepted a $20,000 retainer and was believed to have entered into a tax evasion scheme with other judges.  Fortas resigned from the Court under pressure, rather than face lengthy impeachment proceedings, to save his family grief.  If Kavanaugh is confirmed and the charges against him don't go way, he could be forced off the Court like Fortas was, resigning to spare his wife and daughters further grief.
But then he'll have more time to devote to charity.
I've been led to understand that the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't do a good job the last time it looked into a sex scandal, when many of its members didn't take seriously Anita Hill's charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas in 1991.  The full Senate did a better job of that. Thomas was confirmed by a vote of 52-48 - the highest negative vote ever received by a confirmed Supreme Court justice.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - September 21, 2018

"Workin' At the Car Wash Blues" by Jim Croce  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Sexy Sadie"

The first time I heard "Sexy Sadie," I thought John Lennon was singing about a glamorous movie actress, a Marilyn-type figure who "came along to turn on everyone."  The lyrics seem to indicate a dismissal of Hollywood-style superficiality, but it definitely expresses hostility toward idol-worship that the Beatles had trouble handling when they became idols themselves. The real target of John's hostility, however, was not a movie goddess (and, not even a woman).  It was, though, about someone everyone treated like a god - the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
John and George Harrison were the last two Beatles at the Maharishi's meditation course in the spring of 1968, Ringo Starr having left with his wife Maureen after three days because the food was too spicy and Paul having left with Jane Asher when he and Jane decided they'd gotten as much as he could out of the ashram.  Later, when someone charged that the Maharishi had made a sexual advance toward actress Mia Farrow, who attended the ashram with her siblings, the Beatles, Donovan and the Beach Boys' Mike Love, John left in disgust and convinced George to leave as well, even though George doubted the charge.  John had also come to believe that the Maharishi was really after the money of the Beatles and other celebrities, even though he didn't seem to be enjoying a hypocritical lifestyle with it.  When John told the guru that he, George and their wives were leaving, the Maharishi asked why.  "Well," John said, "if you're so cosmic, you'll know."
The Maharishi gave John such a furious look that it scared him.  
John wrote "Sexy Sadie" with the title "Maharishi" but changed the title and the gender of his target per George's insistence that he avoid libeling the guru in public.  (Sexy Sadie's true identity was only revealed after John's anger abated and he no longer needed to fear retribution from his protagonist.)  As a song, "Sexy Sadie" drips deliciously with anger,  the second-party verses claiming that the Maharishi had made fools of his followers and violated the ethics and responsibilities of his position.  John expresses hope that he gets what's coming to him.  John does give the Maharishi a back-handed compliment, crediting him for his timing - "the world was waiting just for you," just like they wait for any charlatan who comes along to "enlighten" them.  In the second bridge, John cleverly includes himself as one of the Maharishi's dupes, finding solidarity with those who had been ready to give the guru everything they had for his company; John is also uncharacteristically sympathetic toward any other followers of the Maharishi who may have felt cheated, in sharp contrast to the sneering contempt for Eastern cultists that Steely Dan would later voice in their 1973 single "Bodhisattva."  John's kiss of death? He tells his audience that the guru was "the greatest of them all."  Ah, sarcasm.
All  the while, though, John keeps people guessing who he's talking about, carefully avoiding any specific references that could unmask his object of derision.  Even today, neophyte Beatles fans just learning about the group could easily guess wrongly who Sexy Sadie is.
The music is the only clue to Sadie's identity. "Sexy Sadie" is carried by a tart piano riff with a gentle electric-guitar growl and a throbbing bass line. Ringo's drums deepen the tension with their precision.  John is clearly expressing musically what he isn't saying in literal verses.  As another laugh on the Maharishi, Paul and George provide fifties-style backing harmonies, and John concludes the second bridge with a Beach Boys-style falsetto.  Taunting Mike Love, are we?  More likely, John was, as Tim Riley insisted in his book "Tell Me Why," offering "the sting of the betrayal."

Crafting the song to sound like it's about someone else, though, proved to be the right call.  The presentation of "Sexy Sadie" as a song about a woman allowed John to vent and move on, and the Maharishi was able to move on as well. The song can be appreciated as a clever critique . . . not necessarily as a song against the Maharishi, but as an example of how to write a critical song about someone - anyone - without causing lasting resentment and without being too overtly personal.  And,  it's still effective as a cautionary tale against idol-worship.  However, controversy over what motivated Lennon's disillusionment with the guru would remain, as the sexual-misconduct charge against the Maharishi still lingers. George Harrison dismissed the charge that the Maharishi had made a sexual advance toward Mia Farrow (above, with the guru), but Mia Farrow herself was reported to have confirmed the charge.  As the report came from the gossip Web site Page Six in 2014, though, the accuracy of the story is quite suspect.  But the Maharishi's reputation managed to recover and survive over time.  Paul has always valued the experience of learning Transcendental Meditation, and he renewed his friendship with the Maharishi in 2007, a year before the guru's death.  Farrow's sister Prudence and the Beach Boys' Mike Love, who finished the 1968 course, remain devoted followers of Transcendental Meditation. The Maharishi himself was never angry at any of the Beatles, saying, "I could never be upset with angels."
Unknowingly, Mia Farrow would be continuously associated with sexual harassment and sexual abuse, regardless of what actually happened back in 1968.  She would weather a very public and very nasty breakup with Woody Allen when he began having a relationship with their adopted daughter, and the son Woody and Mia sired together, Ronan Farrow, would become the leading sexual-misconduct investigative reporter of his day.  (Ronan Farrow's most recent coup is a news story taking down CBS executive Les Moonves and, indirectly,  "60 Minutes" producer Jeff Fager.)
The Beatles wrote a good deal of songs with feminine-name titles on the White Album that became the songs of and for women with those names; girls and women named Prudence, Martha and Julia likely smile when they hear them.  But if your name happens to be Sadie, I feel so freakin' sorry for you.
You'll get yours yet.    

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Nineties Nostalgia

Out on the road yesterday, I didn't see a Grateful Dead sticker on a Cadillac, but I did see a pro-Clinton (as in our 42nd President) sticker on a Mini Cooper.  It was from the Clinton Presidential Center and it simply said, "I miss Bill."
Where was the little voice in that motorist's head saying, "Don't look back, you can never look back?"     
I don't miss Bill Clinton.  I don't miss him because the better, happier more civilized America I was expecting from his election to the Presidency in 1992 never materialized - no universal health care, no improved public transit, no improvements in education, an economy that did nothing to narrow the gap between the rich and poor, and a Republican Congress that mostly ignored all that.  In fact, apart from the lack of a sex scandal and a six-year Democratic Senate, the Obama administration was the exact same way!    
Democrats ought to be looking forward, but they're so dressed to the nineties that they can't help but look back at good old days that weren't as good as they look in retrospect.  I can understand their nostalgia for 1992 - after all, that was the year of one of the few elections in recent history where Democrats won everything.  But I can't understand why they acted out their nostalgia by nominating the other Clinton for President in 2016.
Did they really think that Hillary could re-create the 1990s - the decade before 9/11, the decade before the financial crisis, the decade before the opioid-addiction epidemic, the decade before the hollowing out of so many towns in the heartland that weren't in all that great shape back in the nineties to begin with?  Did they really think we could go back to the Clinton years by putting another Clinton in the White House?  Oh wait, both Clintons would have been back in the White House, with the same co-presidency approach they took between 1993 and 2001.  The memes showing Bill Clinton in front of the White House with the words "I'm moving back in!" that showed up on Facebook before his wife lost to Donald Trump sum up the misguided nostalgia of the Hillbots.  These people were more annoying than rock fans who still hoped for a Beatles reunion concert even after John Lennon's death.   
So before anyone suggests that we can bring back the nineties, let me remind you of a few things:

  • Kurt Cobain is dead.
  • Janet Evans isn't coming out of retirement.
  • Arsenio Hall doesn't have a late-night talk show anymore, and Jerry Seinfeld isn't rebooting his sitcom.

So let's move forward and concentrate on what's at stake in 2020.  In the meantime, go to a Foo Fighters show, be sure to root for Katie Ledecky at the next Olympics, and watch Stephen Colbert.  And "Murphy Brown" is getting rebooted; at least there's that.     

Monday, September 17, 2018

When The Levee Breaks

The remnants of Hurricane Florence are expected to reach my area late tonight into tomorrow, and even though we'll get a lot of rain and maybe a thunderstorm, it won't be nearly as bad as what people in the Carolinas have been getting from the storm in its full fury.  And Trump is reacting to this catastrophic hurricane by bitching about the reports surrounding the last catastrophic hurricane.  He's trying to deny that three thousand people - about the same number of people that perished on 9/11 - died in Puerto Rico as a result of the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria.  The government is only beginning to deal with Florence, and Trump is responding to the last storm as if he were fighting the last war.
The dam is breaking, and I'm not talking about the Santee Dam holding back Lake Marion in South Carolina.  I'm talking about Trump's "Presidency."  Trump has had to deal with Paul Manafort confessing to every campaign finance violation he's been charged with, and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is dealing with allegations of sexual harassment dating back to - really - his high school years.  (Kavanaugh tries to present himself as a nice guy, but how is this possible with a charge like this?)  Kavanaugh is facing charges from one Christine Christine Blasey Ford, a professor in California who claims that he assaulted her so had that he could have killed her by mistake.
Oh dear . . .. Despite all that, Kavanaugh may still have the votes in the Senate (courtesy of a power-hungry Republican caucus) to squeak through and get on the Court, but he could be forced out once on the Court by the Me Too movement, and hopefully they'll also take out Clarence Thomas in the process.  All of this pressure on Trump's associations and his attempts to bend the will of the judicial system to his own is only making it more likely that the Democrats are going to win back the House in the 2018 midterms . . . and possibly the Senate.
And Trump wants to re-litigate Maria?
When the levee breaks, America will be a far different country than it is today. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Beatles - Rock n' Roll Music (1976)

Don't look for this 1976 Beatles double compilation album in one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar record stores left unless it sells rare vinyl releases; it has never been issued on compact disc or in any other digital format.  But its existence serves as an example of both how and how not to present the Beatles' music in new anthologies.
Released in both Britain and America, Rock n' Roll Music was the first Beatles compilation assembled by EMI after the group's 1967 contract expired and Apple Corps' record label went into hibernation.  It's an interesting hybrid of the group's heavier original numbers and their harder-edged covers of American rock and roll and R&B tunes, aimed at two phenomena of the mid-seventies - AOR radio and the fifties nostalgia craze, the latter having been sparked in America by TV's "Happy Days" and the Broadway musical Grease (soon to be a movie).  But, while EMI may have had some jumbled idea of presenting the Beatles as a bridge between the rock and roll of their own youth and the hard rock and heavy metal of the 1970s, the idea doesn't quite come off.
The music is more or less presented chronologically, opening with "Twist and Shout," originally recorded as an album closer, and including Lennon-McCartney songs such as "I Saw Her Standing There, "I Call Your Name," and "Any Time At All," songs that contained some of the toughest playing and the hottest licks the Beatles got in the moptop years. Covers from fifties performers such as Chuck Berry (including "Rock and Roll Music," the compilation's putative title track), Little Richard and Larry Williams dominate this record, though - side two is nothing but covers - and the overall effect suggests that the Beatles were primarily a fifties nostalgia band in their early years, with their AOR-friendly tracks from the late 1960s getting short shrift.              
In the end, Rock n' Roll Music was pure product, its attempt to cash in on the fifties craze of the time made all the more obvious by artist Ignacio Gomez's garish LP-sleeve artwork, from the silver-metallic chrome backdrop and neon-light lettering to the gatefold's depiction of Eisenhower-era artifacts such as a 1957 Chevrolet and Coca-Cola in an iconic Coke glass.  The artwork nauseated both the Beatles (who, being British, did not have the same teen experience in the fifties that their American counterparts enjoyed) and Beatles fans.  The hideous thumbs on the sleeve suggest that the Beatles were there for anyone to take in their own hands and recycle any way they wanted.  
This is a shame, because a hard-rock-oriented Beatles compilation, with a different track list that contained more originals and featured different artwork (John Lennon even offered to design a cover for this compilation but was refused), would have been a more durable collection.  The album did have some good points - it featured the entire contents of the British EP Long Tall Sally (marking the first time they appeared on an LP in Britain), it marked the debut of "I'm Down" on an LP in either Britain or America, and George Martin remixed the 28 songs here to given them a meatier sound.  One of its tracks, "Got To Get You Into My Life," even became a hit single in America in 1976, leading many unsuspecting Top 40 radio listeners to think they were listening to the latest Paul McCartney and Wings single.  But while Rock n' Roll Music (which was deleted just a few years after it was issued) made money for EMI, the lesson here is that a Beatles compilation should be driven by integrity as much as by profit.  Otherwise, it's likely to become just as much a relic from the past as chrome-laden sweet shops and big cars.      

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Judas Priest, It's Martin O'Malley!

It's September 2018, and even though Martin O'Malley is working diligently to help Democrats win public office in the coming state legislative and congressional elections, and even though he's possibly laying the groundwork for a 2020 presidential run in the process, establishment Democrats and pundits continue to laugh at him, joking that he won't let lack of interest in his existence stop him from undistinguishing himself with another presidential campaign.
It's time to turn things up a notch or two.
I propose that the campaign song for the possible 2020 O'Malley presidential campaign be "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" by Judas Priest.
Why?  Because, as O'Malley knows, it's foolish to sit back as the world goes by, and that's the message "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" conveys, its lyrics urging listeners to go out and get what they can and prepare to fight hard for it - 'cause it's a case of do or die.  And there ain't room for second best, so if Martin O'Malley is going to overcome the naysayers and the snark, well, that's right, here's where the talkin' ends - and listen, in this presidential campaign, there'll be some action spent. Out there is the White House, waiting to be had. You think O'Malley will let it go, you're mad! You've got another thing coming, and it's coming down on you!
O'Malley has to put down his acoustic guitar and pick up an electric one - preferably a Schceter V-1 like this one.
"But Steve," you're saying, "O'Malley has to appeal to young people who like rap and dance pop, a song like this from a pasty-faced British heavy-metal band is no way to get their votes!"  Screw it.  He needs a loud and offensive song to get people's attention and show that he means business.  Besides, Hillary Clinton's use of songs like "Brave" and "Fight Song" in the 2016 campaign was so lame.  If we're going to get people revved up, we gotta use a record associated with a spiked-leather-clad dude like Rob Halford!
Real strong, got me some security!
This should be our fight song.  I also like the title of the Judas Priest album this song came from, as it describes what O'Malley supporters who got dumped on from all corners in 2016 are doing now - Screaming For Vengeance.


The answer now is don't give in, aim for a new tomorrow. ;)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - September 14, 2018

"Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"

One of the shorter songs on the Beatles' White Album, "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" takes the prize for having the longest title of any Beatles song - ten words.  The lyrics describe transitional, even transcendental experiences by going deeper and flying higher, and being inverted in and out, out and in.  Some people assumed that "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey," written primarily by John Lennon, was about a drug high, particularly heroin.  There have even been a couple of suggestions that John based "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" on a lecture from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi about letting oneself go.  But the source of the song's inspiration, is ironically, an unflattering caricature of that inspiration.
According to one source, John was shown a cartoon depicting himself with Yoko Ono represented as a monkey literally on John's back, digging her claws into him and draining him of his creative talent.  He responded that at least he and Yoko had nothing to hide from anyone, living their lives in public as they were.  He then made a jokey offhand remark about the cartoon - "Everybody's got something to hide except me and my monkey!" - and so came up with the idea for the song.  
The Maharishi did inspire one lyric in "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey;" the words "Come on is such a joy" was a catchphrase that the Maharishi enjoyed saying.  (In fact, the song was almost called "Come On, Come On.") 
John explained the carefree, nonchalant lyrics of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" in 1980, when he said that the song was about him and Yoko.  "Everybody seemed to be paranoid except for us two, who were in the glow of love," he said.  "Everything is clear and open when you're in love. Everybody was sort of tense around us: you know, 'What is she doing here at the session? Why is she with him?' All this sort of madness is going on around us because we just happened to want to be together all the time."
Indeed, Yoko had become a distraction at the recording sessions for the White Album.  John brought her to the studio, introduced her to the other Beatles, and he made it clear that she was his guest and that she was free to stick around, because the two of them wanted to be together.  The other Beatles grew to resent this, especially when Yoko made innocent suggestions to them regarding their playing.  But they tolerated her as best they could, knowing that she made John happy and deciding it was a small price to pay . . . until the price increased as Yoko became more intrusive.  But not necessarily because of anything she did, but because she just . . . was.
Not everyone at Abbey Road agreed that Yoko was a nuisance.  "The nice thing about working with John and Yoko," EMI engineer Jeff Jarratt said about a separate recording session he did with them for one of their experimental albums, "was seeing just how much in love they were.  They had a fantastic relationship, even though they took a lot of 'stick' for it."
The music of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" is as freewheeling as the words are.  John starts off the band with a strident chord but then leads the Beatles in a rollicking, energetic guitar groove, and each of the three verses ends with a brief but pointed guitar solo, a heavy cowbell making the song all the more infectious throughout.  The song drifts into a loose, percussive interlude with the Beatles getting carried away with repeatedly singing "Come on, come on " - no doubt enjoying the memories of recording "Please Please Me" - before Paul McCartney's bass takes command to lead the music into a great guitar groove to set up the fade-out, which Tim Riley, in his book "Tell Me Why," describes better than I could.  "The repeated groove they brand into the end of the song," he wrote, "goes around six times, instead of the usual four or eight, and it makes the return of the original verse texture startlingly swift and powerful.  The six-time groove dams up the energy of the entire song; and when it bursts open,  the band comes through with irrepressible force, cowbell clanging like gangbusters."
Indeed.
"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" captures the Beatles having pure, unadulterated fun with their music.  It; all the more ironic that the wellspring of this fun - the song's muse - was giving three of the Beatles so much consternation.
More cowbell! :-D
(Note: Fats Domino covered "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." Yes, John loved his version.)