The River

Saturday, August 30, 2003

It’s never too late or too early for the Grateful Dead

I was just reading about the 25th anniversary DVD edition of Animal House. That makes the film a 1978 release, and puts me at 15 when it came out. I saw it back then in the theater with my older sister and one of her friends. She was 23. I’m not sure why I was tagging along, except for the fact that she’s always been there to teach her baby brother about the world.

I think it’s a measure of my innocence, the innocence still possible at that time, that I felt I’d gotten away with something, that I’d seen an “adult” film that was a bit over my head. Later, in college, with cable a new phenomenon, I had one of the movie channels (or was it only HBO then?), which was playing Animal House several times every day. I watched it several times in one week. It hadn’t yet been officially recognized as a work of art by the Academy for Film Preservation or some such outfit tasked with compiling a list of essential films for preservation. All I knew was it kicked ass.

There was a lot of growing and changing in those years between that eye-opening viewing and my college apartment screenings.

My activity, my growth, was mostly directed at pursuing art (appreciation, not production), drugs, self-knowledge, and a good time with some very good friends. We were beats, we were hippies. But we didn’t have any of those generational homes. We were too late for the free-love boomer movement, viewed the beat generation as from another world, and were too old to be Gen Xers.

If I could give “us” a name, it would be GDIs, god-damned independents. That’s what we called ourselves at the University of Georgia. The frats were huge, and if you didn’t join one, you were some kind of scruffy outsider. Yeah, we embraced that. When Revenge of the Jedi came out, we called it Revenge of the GDIs. And, although we didn’t consciously trace a lineage, Animal House was one of our cultural touchstones.

We did, however, go back to the music of the hippies, the literature of the beats for inspiration, sustenance. Reagan was elected in 1980, and our disgust and discontent rose soon after. The whole “defining a generation” or “defining a decade” thing had become prevalent, something for the media to blather on about. It only served to heighten for us the fact that we’d missed it. And to give us a sense that, as long as defining decades was a common practice, by 1983 or 4, we could safely condemn the entire ‘80s.

Oh, but we had the late ‘70s, our early coming of age period. We had Saturday Night Live, Fernwood Tonight, truly funny comedies in the movie theater. Cheech and Chong. At 16, during one of the first times I got stoned (as in not the first time I smoked the weed), I took a couple neighborhood friends to see Nice Dreams (nope, it was Up in Smoke, a superior film released in...1978. Should have looked it up before posting -- ed.). The only thing I remember is laughing my ass off, enjoying myself completely, and eating a Suzy Q on my back porch when we were back home.

It’s perfect that Animal House came out in 1978. I’ve always looked upon that year as a vintage one for rock-n-roll. Being 15 and not quite aware of rock-n-roll or its connection with the 1950s and 60s, those eras we were born too late for, those inexpressibly cool decades, I didn’t at the time know that some sort of cultural apex had been reached. Now it’s a pet theory of mine. As inheritors and miners of a youth culture too exciting to miss no matter what your date of birth, we were in the habit of placing albums in their context and so always checked for the year of release. I’ve been amazed at how many fine albums were released in 1978 (or 77 and 79, but over the years I’ve fixated on 78). Here’s just a partial list that springs to mind: Darkness on the Edge of Town, Some Girls, London Calling, Running on Empty, Street Legal, My Aim is True, Excitable Boy, Wavelength, Damn the Torpedoes.

My affection for that year is also why, when trying to decide what CD to buy to introduce myself to a band I’d written off as boring in those days – The Grateful Dead – I opted for Dick’s Picks volume 18, the band caught live the winter of 1978 in Iowa and Wisconsin. There are 29 volumes of live shows in the Dick’s Picks line, a slew of others available, plus the studio catalog. How to choose? I let 1978 be my guide.

I can now report, from the vantage point of 2003, that me and my buddies missed it. It was part of our brash confidence, our “I’ll define what this and any other decade was, thank you” attitude, and maybe our need to reject something that seemed so knee-jerk hippie, and I love us for it, but we missed it. Just a little outside.

It’s cool, because I can drive around in my Honda Civic and listen to transcendent, tough, committed rock, just like I used to. This ain’t no self-indulgent, hippie, trippy, peace and love junk. I mean, there’s a joyous, tightly rocking, beautiful rendition of Good Love here. There are TWO Chuck Berry songs.

And, of course, there are the 10-plus minute jams. Jeez. We loved the electric guitar back then, and this here is inspired guitar playing. Jerry Garcia seems to channel a force he can only just contain, but contain he does to artful effect. The rest, with whom I’m still not that familiar, reveal gutsy, greasy, rootsy rock.

It’s not all hard-charging. It’s all over the place. It’s, ahem, a trip. Now, there’s a lot of cultural lineage, sustenance, and, dare I say it, baggage, I’ve gone over here. Now you know where I’m coming from, what I’ve brought to this 3 CD set.

So I’ll leave you with a review from my 3-year-old daughter. Last weekend I took her to get her hair cut. I grabbed Dick’s Picks volume 18 out of my car and stuck it in the CD player of the family car. I played Disc two as we took the 20minute drive to the hair cutters.

Eleanor was mostly silent. She didn’t ask for the Wiggles, the Australia kids’ group that’s not half bad but requires I listen to something more sophisticated as an antidote to their unrelenting catchiness; she just accepted that daddy was going to play some of his rock-n-roll. Finally, during Eyes of the World, a gorgeous, mid-tempo, deeply rocking song, she said, “Daddy, my brain is dancing.” No concept of the hippies, tripping, or higher states of consciousness. “Daddy,” sweetly, innocently, “my brain is dancing.”

I smiled. I made some sort of acknowledgement. A minute later, she said, “Daddy, my hip is dancing.” Again, a big smile from me. Then she wanted to show me what she meant. So she said, “they’re going like this.” And I look in the rearview mirror to see both her arms in the air, swaying back and forth like tree limbs in a breeze.

Yeah. Rock on Jerry. Shine on you crazy deadheads.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Alan Watts Blues

(or, Bruce isn't working but instead giving himself a hell of a downer.)

I’ve got 'em again. So does Mark Woods, it seems. Hell, just look at that picture from Portland on his site, titled The Face of Freedom in Bush’s America. It’s a line of cops in riot gear, all black padded uniforms, black helmets with plastic face shields, truncheons at the ready.

Frightening. Scroll up and you’ll find Noam Chomsky: “People are always concerned about their work and they live in fear. Although there is a lot of crime in the United States, it is approximately the same as comparable societies, but fear of crime is far higher. In many ways, this is the most frightened nation in the world!”

Indeed. We’ve amped up the fear. That’s how the administration sold a bogus war. That’s why we have the Terrorism Alerts. A ruined economy-- that works too, to keep people fearful.

Look at George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, John Ashcroft. Totalitarians. We talk about Iraq being invaded; WE have been invaded. America is in the grip of an oppressor, and so by extension is the globe. American laws are being rewritten, subverted, crushed. The criminals we fear most are our own government, because it isn’t our government; it isn’t anyone’s government. It’s an amoral, controlling elite.

Give me absolute control
Over every living soul

From Van Morrison to Leonard Cohen. One limns the soul, the other the soul-dead.

We all know it, don’t we? We’ve failed. “I’ve seen the future, brother, it is murder,” sang Cohen. I wonder if he knew about The Carlyle Group when he wrote it.

But then, everybody knows, he said in another song. And we do, on some level. These are uncomfortable facts.

“No wonder you Americans are afraid of death; you don’t know how to live.” That was a French waiter (give it a funny French accent) in a skit on Prairie Home Companion, a rerun on my radio this past Saturday.

Okay, I could give you the payoff paragraph now; Bruce expounds on how to live. Something about comfortable ruts, autopilot, someone you don’t know and can’t trust seizing control, crashing the plane because destruction is their way, it leads to chaos and need and cheap and profitable ways to fill it – for those that are left. Sorry, that’s how not to live. Who can answer the converse, except you?

Well I’m taking some time with my quiet friend
Well I’m takin’ some time on my own.
Well I’m makin’ some plans for my getaway
There’ll be blue skies shining up above
When I’m cloud hidden
Cloud hidden
Whereabouts unknown

Well I’ve got to get out of the rat-race now
I’m tired of the ways of mice and men
And the empires all turning into rust again.
Out of everything nothing remains the same
That’s why I’m cloud hidden
Cloud hidden
Whereabouts unknown

~ Van Morrison, Alan Watts Blues, Poetic Champions Compose

Addendum: I was about to publish this when I read The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky by Arundhati Roy. This, along with other material at Wood S Lot, would cause many of us to seek cover in the clouds. "The horror. The horror."

It's a great piece, a must-read. I find some hope and strength in the final paragraphs, somehow, I guess because they illuminate both Roy and Chomsky as human beings:

As a child growing up in the state of Kerala, in South India — where the first democratically elected Communist government in the world came to power in 1959, the year I was born — I worried terribly about being a gook. Kerala was only a few thousand miles west of Vietnam. We had jungles and rivers and rice-fields, and communists, too. I kept imagining my mother, my brother, and myself being blown out of the bushes by a grenade, or mowed down, like the gooks in the movies, by an American marine with muscled arms and chewing gum and a loud background score. In my dreams, I was the burning girl in the famous photograph taken on the road from Trang Bang.

As someone who grew up on the cusp of both American and Soviet propaganda (which more or less neutralised each other), when I first read Noam Chomsky, it occurred to me that his marshalling of evidence, the volume of it, the relentlessness of it, was a little — how shall I put it? — insane. Even a quarter of the evidence he had compiled would have been enough to convince me. I used to wonder why he needed to do so much work. But now I understand that the magnitude and intensity of Chomsky's work is a barometer of the magnitude, scope, and relentlessness of the propaganda machine that he's up against. He's like the wood-borer who lives inside the third rack of my bookshelf. Day and night, I hear his jaws crunching through the wood, grinding it to a fine dust. It's as though he disagrees with the literature and wants to destroy the very structure on which it rests. I call him Chompsky.

Being an American working in America, writing to convince Americans of his point of view must really be like having to tunnel through hard wood. Chomsky is one of a small band of individuals fighting a whole industry. And that makes him not only brilliant, but heroic.

Some years ago, in a poignant interview with James Peck, Chomsky spoke about his memory of the day Hiroshima was bombed. He was 16 years old:

"I remember that I literally couldn't talk to anybody. There was nobody. I just walked off by myself. I was at a summer camp at the time, and I walked off into the woods and stayed alone for a couple of hours when I heard about it. I could never talk to anyone about it and never understood anyone's reaction. I felt completely isolated."

That isolation produced one of the greatest, most radical public thinkers of our time. When the sun sets on the American empire, as it will, as it must, Noam Chomsky's work will survive.

It will point a cool, incriminating finger at a merciless, Machiavellian empire as cruel, self-righteous, and hypocritical as the ones it has replaced. (The only difference is that it is armed with technology that can visit the kind of devastation on the world that history has never known and the human race cannot begin to imagine.)

As a could've been gook, and who knows, perhaps a potential gook, hardly a day goes by when I don't find myself thinking — for one reason or another — "Chomsky Zindabad".

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Steve Onepot Himmer:

Speed trap

All night here anonymous engines rumble around the traffic island, fishtail across the parking lot of the hotel up where the quarry and the jobs used to be, and shake the plastic chairs on our front porches as they howl by in streaks of accessory chrome and tall spoilers. They lay smoking black trails through the neighborhood and blow tarry clouds through our windows to creep up the lengths of humped beds like soft-padding cats intent on stealing our breath, blanket the backs of our throats until we wake coughing from nightmares of drowning.


Great site discovery

Left I on the News.

Devastating critique of The New York Times

By Greg Palast on Monday. In case you're forgetting to regularly check in with one of the world's best journalists at, here's a heads up from The River.

BLACK-OUT AT THE TIMES -- Readers Forced to View Unsolicited Corpornography

I guess the lights never went back on at the Times. That's the only acceptable explanation for the loving Lewinsky The Paper of Record gave to the power industry on the front page of its Sunday edition.


Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Funny book

I opened Kerouac's On the Road the other night and read the following: “When I found him [Remi] in Mill City that morning he had fallen on the beat and evil days that come to young guys in their middle twenties.” Wow. I had just written about On the Road and my middle twenties in a post called Oxford. The material below is just after that, and it cracked me up. In this part of the book, Sal Paradise and friend Remi Boncoeur are working as guards of barracks housing men who are going to be shipped to overseas construction jobs.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Signet 25th anniversary mass market paperback, pages 54-56:

It was a horrible crew of men, men with cop souls, all except Remi and myself. Remi was only trying to make a living, and so was I, but these men wanted to make arrests and get compliments from the chief of police in town. They even said that if you didn’t make at least one a month you’d be fired. I gulped at the prospect of making an arrest. What actually happened was that I was as drunk as anybody in the barracks the night all hell broke loose.

This was a night when the schedule was so arranged that I was alone for six hours – the only cop on the grounds; and everybody in the barracks seemed to have gotten drunk that night. It was because their ship was leaving in the morning. They drank like seamen the night before the anchor goes up. I sat in the office with my feet on the desk reading Blue Book adventures about Oregon and the north country, when suddenly I realized there was a great hum of activity in the usually quiet night. I went out. Lights were burning in practically every damn shack on the grounds. Men were shouting, bottles were breaking. It was do or die for me. I took my flashlight and went to the noisiest door and knocked. Someone opened it about six inches.

“What do you want?”

I said, “I’m guarding these barracks tonight and you boys are supposed to keep quiet as much as you can” – or some such silly remark. They slammed the door in my face. I stood looking at the wood of it against my nose. It was like a Western movie; the time had come for me to assert myself. I knocked again. They opened up wide this time. “Listen,” I said, “I don’t want to come around bothering you fellows, but I’ll lose my job if you make too much noise.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m a guard here.”

“Never seen you before.”

“Well, here’s my badge.”

“What are you doing with that pistolcracker on your ass?”

“It isn’t mine,” I apologized. “I borrowed it.”

“Have a drink, fer krissakes.” I didn’t mind if I did. I took two.

I said, “Okay, boys? You’ll keep quiet, boys? I’ll get hell, you know.”

“It’s all right, kid,” they said. “Go make your rounds. Come back for another drink if you want one.”

And I went to all the doors in this manner, and pretty soon I was as drunk as anybody else. Come dawn, it was my duty to put up the American flag on a sixty-foot pole, and this morning I put it up upside down and went home to bed. When I came back in the evening, the regular cops were sitting around grimly in the office.

“Say, bo, what was all the noise around here last night? We’ve had complaints from people who live in those houses across the canyon.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It sounds pretty quiet right now.”

“The whole contingent's gone. You were supposed to keep order around here last night – the chief is yelling at you. And another thing -- do you know you can go to jail for putting the American flag upside down on a government pole?”

“Upside down?” I was horrified; of course I hadn’t realized it. I did it every morning mechanically.

“Yessir,” said a fat cop who’d spent twenty-two years as a guard in Alcatraz. “You could go to jail for doing something like that.” The others nodded grimly. They were always sitting around on their asses; they were proud of their jobs. They handled their guns and talked about them. They were itching to shoot somebody. Remi and me.

Monday, August 25, 2003

He may never be President

But he could change the world. In fact, when Dennis Kucinich appeared on The Daily Show last week, Jon Stewart asked him why he was running for President, since everyone agreed he had no shot. With what could pass for a straight face, Kucinich replied, "to change the world."

In a comment on this blog, Bobby of Skullbolt says he admires the way Dennis Kucinich stood up to Cleveland Trust Bank. Whether he ever becomes President or not isn't really the point. That his life in public service is an example for us all, is. I found the story that Bobby referred to, in Dennis's own words, at the Organic Consumers Association page:

The Muny Light issue came to a head on December 15, 1978, when Ohio's largest bank, Cleveland Trust, the 33rd largest bank in America at that time, told me that they would not renew the city's credit on 15 million dollars worth of loans taken out by the previous administration unless I would agree to sell Cleveland's municipally owned utility to CEI. On that day, by that time, the sale of Muny Light was being promoted by both Cleveland newspapers, virtually all of the radio and TV stations in town, the entire business community, all the banks, both political parties, and several unions, as well as a majority of the Cleveland City Council. All I had to do was to sign my name to legislation and the system would have sold and the city credit "protected." The chairman of Cleveland Trust even offered 50 million dollars of new credit if I would agree to sell Muny Light.

Where I come from it matters how much people pay for electricity. I grew up in the inner city of Cleveland, the oldest of 7 children. My parents never owned a home, they lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple of cars. I remember when there were 5 children and my parents living in a 3 room upstairs apartment on Cleveland's east side. My parents would sometimes sit in the kitchen at one of those old white enamel top tables, which, when the surface was chipped, was black underneath. When they counted their pennies, I could hear them clicking on the enamel top table. Click, Click, Click.

When I was in the board room with the Chairman of Cleveland Trust Bank, I was thinking about my parents counting their pennies and I could hear those pennies hitting the enamel top table. So, I said no to the sale of Muny Light to CEI. At Midnight, Cleveland Trust put the City of Cleveland into default.

Later, it was revealed... (more)

Friday, August 22, 2003

We don't do peace

From a recent "What's Left" Stephen Gowans column:

Damn North Koreans. They're at it again, rigidly making demands for, ugh!, peace.

"North Korea revived its long standing demand for a non-aggression treaty and diplomatic relations with Washington," revealed The New York Times. (1)

Habitually termed bizarre, unpredictable, and isolationist, North Korea is often portrayed as a menacing threat, its leaders consumed by a death wish to send a warhead hurtling toward Hawaii. But a country that has a long-standing demand for a non-aggression treaty and diplomatic relations can hardly be considered a threat to the safety of Americans. A threat to the idea that free trade and free markets dominated by US capital must spread to all corners of the globe, North Korea included -- or that Washington is global boss -- is quite another matter.

It seems Kim Jong Il, the country's leader, just doesn't get it. His demand for peace, the newspaper of record was compelled to add, shows a "rigidity analysts said represented [Pyongyang's] customary leverage from a weak position." (2)

Translation: The United States doesn't negotiate. It issues demands, and they're to be acceded to, post haste. Didn't Kim get the memo?

The US demand, in case you missed it, is for North Korea to surrender its quaint and outmoded ideas about (a) sovereignty, (b) socialism, and (c) the right to self-defense.


And in his latest column, Gowans says a Democrat in the White House isn't going to make much difference (Kucinich would be an exception, I think).

With candidates gearing up to contest presidential nominations, and a presidential election on the horizon, liberal, progressives and other leftists are wondering whether a Democratic administration would offer something better, if only marginally. There's a desperate desire to believe it would, but a desperate desire won't make it so. To be sure, a Democratic administration would offer the appearance of a kinder imperialism, but it would be imperialism all the same, and the difference would be superficial alone. This might make progressives and liberals feel better, but it would make no material difference. Countries that refused to turn their markets, resources, land and labor over to US capital would still be menaced. The Pentagon's budget would still be huge. The US would still have troops stationed in almost 130 countries, and the number of foreign bases would continue to grow. And wars, unprovoked and illegal, would still be carried keep the economy afloat. There's a good chance, however, that a Democrat would be more effective in turning rank imperialism into something that looks progressive and humanitarian, the way Clinton and Blair did with Yugoslavia.

Democrats, no matter how liberal, won't change the enormous economic pressure that drives the US to war. A Democrat can't, and indeed has no intention of even trying, to erase the systemic demand to carve out spaces for firms to sell surplus goods, for investors to invest surplus capital, and for the military-industrial complex to expand. A systemic problem can't be fixed by someone who proposes to do nothing more than put a humane face on an inhumane, anarchic and irrational system whose equilibrium state demands incessant expansion, even if it means outraging the sovereignty of unwilling nations, and the death, through war, of numberless victims.


Late night TV

I stayed up to watch The Daily Show last night. Usually I'm trying to get to bed by 11, but I heard Kucinich would be on. Leigh came downstairs after she heard me laughing so loudly. Great skit on the Texas democrats hightailing it to New Mexico to stall a Republican effort to redistrict, done in mock "report on shocking abuse/concern for the victim" style. At one point, the "reporter" holds up a state of Texas pillow and asks a congressperson: "Show me where Delay tried to redistrict you." And "you can tell me, were you jerrymandered?"

Then Kucinich came on. As soon as he walked onto the studio floor, Leigh said, "there's no way he'll be elected."

Sad, but true.

Stop the Florida-tion of the 2004 election

Sign the petition.

Tell 'em Greg Palast sent ya.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

A good friend of mine made a compilation tape some years back which I listened to recently. He included an Arlo Guthrie monologue where Arlo is talking about the unNeutron bomb, saying you can’t have a Neutron bomb without an unNeutron bomb (and you can’t have a dark without a light to stick it in, as Arlo puts it). So I thought about…

The unBush Administration

Mr. President?


What are we gonna do about North Korea?

Order take out?

You mean nuke ‘em?

Nooo. Ha. Good one. Just hungry for some kimchee. Shit, do we still have nukes?

Yes sir. Armed and ready.


Yes sir. Millions will die at your command.

That is fucked up. Could you get someone to quietly disarm them?

But sir. What if North Korea finds out. The last administration treated them very badly. They might be holding a grudge.

Well hell, we have global communications. Planes. We can ask. I say we fly over there. That way we can eat in. In a real North Korean restaurant. Holy shit. We can actually do that. Amazing. Amazing world.

Yes sir. It would be historic. Of course, I hear the quality has gone down, what with the way we’ve insisted they remain isolated.

Shit, take a memo. “North Korea will no longer dwell in the shadow of paranoia and isolation. With my new North Korea Plan, the United States will extend a hand of friendship and cooperation.” Oh good god. I can’t do this official decree stuff. Let’s just go. People will get the message. Actions! Actions speak.

At least a news release sir?

Yeah, sure. Let my poet friend write it.

And a news conference?

Of course. I’ll bring it up at the weekly open-house on the lawn. Reporters, regular folk, the homeless, whoever, they can hear it straight from me, with some free grub to boot. Which, of course, they paid for in the first place.

About that, sir. Some people have been writing all kinds of mean things about it. It has gotten loud and raucous a few times, especially when Willie Nelson played. You do have enemies, sir, and some still own media outlets.

Have you noticed their circulation and viewership is going down? More and more people are seeing with their own eyes. Once you’ve been here, you can’t believe the vicious soul-dead spew some folks try to sell. The contrast with “what’s happening on the ground” or “the facts on the ground” as the military likes to say, is too great. And the word spreads. We still have an Internet, and millions of online journalists. By the way, I know you’re new. We try to get a different intern in here regularly so more and more can learn about what The White House is. But you don’t have to call me sir. My name’s George.

Sir. Uh, George, can I ask how you came to have this position.

Ha, ya got me. I guess there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Is this thing on?

The noise is us? Whataya mean the noise is us? The only noise you hear is your own fevered brain, my friend, so don’t go insulting a whole community. We’re expressing ourselves, and if you think that has to be pretty, well, maybe you’re better off staring at a river.

Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. Swish, swish. Toot-tweeeet!

La di da. All noise, all the time, baby!

Can’t just slink off though, no, you have to flame everyone within earshot. Oh, it sounds all empathetic and sincere. Blogging has brought on ADD. It’s blogging’s fault there’s not enough time. Blogging ate my homework. Everybody sucks. They let the war happen. Weah, weah, weah.

Things are not funny anymore. Jesus. At least be original. Time to work. So work! Is that so difficult? Oh yeah, it is, as you are all too eager to tell anyone who’ll listen. “Look at this! Can you believe it! I have to work like common people!” And all this shit about hubris. Yeah, you should know.

Those America-lovin people are right: Grow up already.

Desert of the real. Look! He’s wandering in the desert! Look, everybody. No don’t, he doesn’t care. You all just go on with your delusion. (he checks sitemeter for the tenth time today).

Yeah, lighten up already. Would it kill you to smile? Seabiscuit sucks. Oh yeah, the river is wide, but not wide enough for a Hollywood movie. Nooooo.

You think, you think you’ve learned. You think maybe you’re special. NOW’s the time. THIS is it. Ha! Blogging sucks. No it doesn’t. Maybe a little. Maybe yes, maybe no.

Jesus H. Christ. Bump the needle, already. Dance with the one that brung yah, but learn some new steps.

Yah know, like, "here comes Seabiscuit. It's a perfect ride by Red Pollard. He's making it look easy, but you know, you understand. You've seen his journey, read his story, watched the movie, been to the snack bar, shed a tear or three, drove home. Hammered out a blog post. Took a walk. Sent an e-mail. Drank your coffee. Felt your feet ache. Watched the sunrise through the windshield. Hit the keys. Opened the program. Lost the bet. Washed the clothes. Wondered, wondered..."

Yeah, hit publish. Time for lunch.

The noise is us….jeez….

Monday, August 18, 2003

An invocation

Christmas In Washington
by Steve Earle

It's Christmastime in Washington
The Democrats rehearsed
Gettin' into gear for four more years
Things not gettin' worse
The Republicans drink whiskey neat
And thanked their lucky stars
They said, 'He cannot seek another term
They'll be no more FDRs'
I sat home in Tennessee
Staring at the screen
With an uneasy feeling in my chest
And I'm wonderin' what it means

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

I followed in your footsteps once
Back in my travelin' days
Somewhere I failed to find your trail
Now I'm stumblin' through the haze
But there's killers on the highway now
And a man can't get around
So I sold my soul for wheels that roll
Now I'm stuck here in this town

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

There's foxes in the hen house
Cows out in the corn
The unions have been busted
Their proud red banners torn
To listen to the radio
You'd think that all was well
But you and me and Cisco know
It's going straight to hell

So come back, Emma Goldman
Rise up, old Joe Hill
The barracades are goin' up
They cannot break our will
Come back to us, Malcolm X
And Martin Luther King
We're marching into Selma
As the bells of freedom ring

Friday, August 15, 2003

The Dark Ages of Deregulation

This Greg Palast article, Greg Palast being about the only real journalist I can think of, deserves to be a front page story. Knowing what we do about THE MEDIA, of course it won't.

But let's make it a Front Blog Story. Come on lefties, if any of you have found me yet, push this one. We have a printing press, let's use it for exposing folks to REAL journalism.

I can tell you all about the ne're-do-wells that put out our lights tonight. I came up against these characters -- the Niagara Mohawk Power Company -- some years back. You see, before I was a journalist, I worked for a living, as an investigator of corporate racketeers. In the 1980s, "NiMo" built a nuclear plant, Nine Mile Point, a brutally costly piece of hot junk for which NiMo and its partner companies charged billions to New York State's electricity ratepayers.

To pull off this grand theft by kilowatt, the NiMo-led consortium fabricated cost and schedule reports, then performed a Harry Potter job on the account books. In 1988, I showed a jury a memo from an executive from one partner, Long Island Lighting, giving a lesson to a NiMo honcho on how to lie to government regulators. The jury ordered LILCO to pay $4.3 billion and, ultimately, put them out of business.

And that's why, if you're in the Northeast, you're reading this by candlelight tonight. Here's what happened. After LILCO was hammered by the law, after government regulators slammed Niagara Mohawk and dozens of other book-cooking, document-doctoring utility companies all over America with fines and penalties totaling in the tens of billions of dollars, the industry leaders got together to swear never to break the regulations again. Their plan was not to follow the rules, but to ELIMINATE the rules. They called it "deregulation."



I was, what, 26. Adulthood. I wasn’t adjusting too well.

I’d had a journalism job, my first. It was for a weekly rag on the South side of town – local sports, county board meetings, school news. But that got old fast. Besides, I was living in an apartment only a few miles from my parents’ home. These outlying bedroom and strip mall areas of Atlanta were fine for old people raising families, but they were no place for me. I had to be with my kind. So I quit my job and moved to the big city.

I had no plan. A career, as far as I was concerned, was for people obsessed with money and status and two-car garages. I merely followed two strong impulses. One, to get the hell out of dodge, and the other more vague – but something pulled me toward bookstores. I felt at home in them, and reading contemporary literature helped me realize that many adults were like me -- fucked up; struggling with a rich variety of personal issues (although I’d never have phrased it like that back then).

A cultural mecca for me, on my trips into Atlanta, was Oxford Bookstore, a large independent with books in every available space, magazines from every corner of society, and a small loft café. The energy there, the strong smell of coffee and newsprint. I still find that aroma powerfully intoxicating, and I have yet to set foot in a bookstore that could duplicate it.

They were building a new store not five miles away in former car dealership. This is the part of Atlanta gathered around Peachtree Street as it snakes north of downtown, full of trees, shopping, restaurants, and money. As soon as I saw the construction for the new store, I knew where I’d enter my application.

I got hired, after an interview with an old woman in a wheelchair as strange to me as a Saturday matinee villain. Starting pay was something like $6.50 an hour. I could live on that. Make rent and a payment on an Japanese econobox. I could buy all the beer I needed, and I drank plenty.

Yeah, life had come apart. A long relationship severed. College daze over. My “calling” stalled and unsatisfying. I needed change.

Enter Oxford. Enter Atlanta. Enter cheap apartment with fellow – and still – journalist.

“Zines!” that’s how we answered the phone in the magazine department, where I came to work each day to straighten the shelves, stock the new issues, and rip off the covers of the outdated to send back for credit. And people were calling all the time. It was a busy store. We, the staff, were all young, educated, hip yet not self-conscious (overly), enjoying our limbo and the doomed agony of it, getting jazzed on the strong coffee from the café by day, drunk and stoned, raving and voluble by night.

We would hide out behind the store, safe from the clamor and demand of the masses, smoking cigarettes, dissing the customers. “We could run this place flawlessly if it wasn’t for the customers!” we liked to say. The gathering spot was right behind my walled-off and chaotic hallway of a magazine work area.

What stands out most from that time is a voice and a person. I hadn’t been working at the store long. I think she may have rung up a few of my purchases. So we’d exchanged pleasantries. But I hadn’t heard her voice like this. I was inside. The door leading to the back, the dumpster and the smoking area was open. It was a conversation about Jack Kerouac.

“Kerouac couldn’t write! I read The Dharma Bums. Shit, I could write that.”

“Hey, Kerouac was a genius. He only wrote The Dharma Bums to satisfy his publisher. They wanted something quick to capitalize on On the Road.”

Jack Kerouac! On the Road! That was one of the books that got me through college, along with those by Ken Kesey and Hunter Thompson. And I loved The Dharma Bums, too. This was exactly why I’d changed everything up. No, I didn’t jump outside and mix it up on behalf of Jack. That’s not my style. I’m quiet, reserved. But that confident, passionate, and intriguing voice defending Kerouac belonged to one hell of an interesting woman. Of that I was sure.

I got to know her, a little at a time. We talked about an art show at the High Museum, maybe we could go see it together. Something happened and that didn’t work out. I kept stocking shelves, feeling her presence, knowing, as much as this mule-like retail job impinged on my ego, that I was in the right place. She was at the register when I bought a film magazine with a photo on the cover of Matt Dillon in Drugstore Cowboy. She told me how much she loved the film. I went to see it, by myself. Yep. It was great. (It still is.)

She moved to the new store in the former car dealership. It was finally opened and needed staff. I asked for a transfer and got it. She was hanging out in the video rental department when I brought some movies back there. I dropped some and made her laugh.

Later, I saw her stocking videos. It was a lower shelf and she was on her knees, bent to her work, her dark hair falling across half her face. I loved her then. We still hadn’t had our first date.

Finally, we agreed we’d meet one night in a bar. We’d both get there early and save a table for some other friends from work. That afternoon, I told a friend of my plans for the evening. He asked, “is this a date?” I said, “No, it’s better than a date. We’re going to meet a group of friends, so there won’t be any date pressure.”

It was an Irish bar. We found a table, and we drank, beer for me, Irish whisky for her. And we talked, and the bar and the friends and everything fell away. We drank our drinks and we drank each other’s words and we felt the rhythm and the pulse and the beat of something on the soundsystem. The Waterboys, Fisherman’s Blues. “This is from my favorite CD of last year,” she said.

She still has it. It sits on our CD rack in the den, just behind the play area we set up for our two daughters.

Just yesterday, Leigh went into basement of our split-level -- just outside the orbit of the big city, but close enough for plenty of cultural forays -- to look for the title to a car we’re selling. We’ve got boxes of papers and books down there, more than a few, since our shelving, present in most rooms of the house, is filled to overflowing. She came upstairs in tears. We’ve had a wet spring and summer, and our basement had grown damp. Many of her books – for they’re mostly hers down there, she’s much better read than I – were moldy, rotting away.

Now our garage is full of books, spread out and drying. We’re going to trade some in, and, wouldn’t you know, those are in fine shape; it was the prized possessions, such as the multi-volume The Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant, that suffered the most damage. I helped her bring up the boxes. I idly opened one, and there on top was On the Road.

Neither of us has read Kerouac in years. She told me to read Desolation Angels in those younger days, but I couldn’t get through it.

I’d be lying if I told you our relationship has been as constantly strong as when we first drank it all in. We’ve both struggled through some rough patches, felt the stiffening of unbidden walls. We’ve got too much stuff, both physical and psychic. We’ve got issues.

And we’ve got books, lots of books. We’ve got to get rid of some, and we’ve got to clear some space on the shelves in the house. We brought those crumbling, sagging boxes out of the basement together. We saved most of the books just in time, but we can’t leave them unattended anymore.

It’s bottles of wine now, with a home-cooked meal or maybe a gourmet pizza, after the kids have gone to sleep. The bookstore is gone, both locations. The owner went too far into debt in an attempt to grow too fast. We’re still here, still talking, 13 years down the road. We still have each other.

Thursday, August 14, 2003


I thought of something fucked up. A dream that I think I might have in the future: I will be beside a grave yard with a golf club and a bucket of balls. I'll start hitting balls into the grave yard, and they'll bounce and careen crazily around off head stones. And I'll shout to all the dearly departed resting there, "It's not fair to you!! You did not have enough time, and I love you!!!" It was not fair. And it wasn't fair. Not fair.

My eternity is only my lifespan. What else could it be? My forever is hole to hole.


Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The best ideas are never implemented

I got an assignment, be on a call to brainstorm ideas for the name of a new performance-motivating contest. All departments are eligible. It should have a rock-n-roll theme, since the grand prize will include tickets to some premiere rock concert (our new CEO loves the rock-n-roll). It's all about team work and pulling together (tough times at the company; must stick together, must stay motivated).

I threw out a number of possibilities, one of which was finally chosen. It was an obvious one, and somebody else said they were going to suggest it too. It was even almost exactly the same name as a company-wide contest from years ago, before I started.

But my best idea was ignored:

"Smells Like Team Spirit"

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Book table

At my local Barnes and Noble during lunch the other day I happened upon a table full of books on horse racing. And I discovered that, in addition to acting in the film Seabiscuit, jockey and renaissance man Gary Stevens has written an autobiography, The Perfect Ride. But I didn't see any of my favorites, so I'm listing them here, just in case anyone out there is interested in a good horse racing read.

The Wrong Horse: An Odyssey Through the American Racing Scene and Tip on a Dead Crab, both by William Murray. The former is a personal account of one man's love of horse racing; the latter is a quietly entertaining mystery novel, part of Murray's Shifty Lou Anderson series.

A Breed Apart: The Horses and the Players, by Mike Helm. Another idiosyncratic look at the sport and why some are attracted to it.

Ruffian: Burning from the Start, by Jane Schwartz, is a vivid telling of the story of Ruffian, who is regarded as horse racing's greatest filly.

Also, The Miracle Strip: A Story of Longacres Race Track by Stephen Sadis is an excellent documentary, and a sad story to boot, since it was occasioned by the demise of the Seattle track in 1992 to make way for a Boeing facility.

I found this about the film on the Web:

Unreeling hidden histories

Filmmaker Stephen Sadis takes Whyte's advice literally. Since 1991,
the Bellevue native has been turning local history into documentaries.
The first, which appeared in 1992, was "The Miracle Strip," the story
of Renton's now-gone Longacres racetrack. It was followed by "Real
Baseball: The Everett Giants Story." Then, in 1996, Sadis made "The
Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway." The films have been broadcast both
locally and nationally, and continue to sell well on video.

These days, Sadis' Perpetual Motion Pictures company occupies a
Second Avenue office that resembles a set. The low-lit room exudes a
1930s ambiance, with framed vintage stills in the shadow of Art-Deco
arches. But, says the young exec, his enterprise was started by
accident. "I never thought I was really interested in `history.' Then
I saw Ken Burns' `The Civil War' on TV. I was living in Los Angeles,
working as a cameraman. Ken Burns' style really turned my views around."

At almost the same time, Sadis learned Longacres was doomed. Having
worked there as a teen, he knew and loved the racetrack. "So I came home
just to document it. Of course, I didn't know how to go about it." With
two years to go before the track's demise, Sadis started hunting down
interview subjects: old employees, owners' relatives, even gamblers and
former jockeys. At the same time, he devoured newspaper microfilm. "I
read the local papers from 1906 through the '40s. They gave me mileposts
for that slice of Seattle history."

Sadis' biggest struggle came with visualizing the story. And, in
the end, he broke down and wrote Ken Burns directly. "I asked for a
script of his, and he actually sent one! I'd never seen a documentary
script, so that was great." He then enlisted a writer friend, David
Buerge, and together they gave structure to a wealth of material:
interviews, paraphernalia, old footage, photographs.

Since "The Miracle Strip," Sadis has never looked back. His current
feature is "The Seattle Rainiers," an hourlong documentary on the 1930s
baseball team. Raised to championship stature by Emil Sick, then the
owner of Rainier Brewery, the team had "a huge impact on the city,"
says Sadis.

As with every Perpetual project, research parallels Sadis' fund
raising. Even as he solicits memories, home footage and photos, he
writes grants, courts sponsors and talks to distributors. But
inevitably, his histories are incomplete. "You get some great tales
which never make it into the film, simply because there are no visuals
to support them. Plus there are complex things you can't do justice to,
because that's not the nature of your medium."

Monday, August 11, 2003

What a great discovery

Brad Zellar: Open All Night

Be sure to scroll down to The Inquisitor, Part II:

What is the theme? he shouted at me.

I'm sorry? I said.

Your point! he bellowed. What is your point?

Things are slippery, I offered.


Thanks Mark.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

The River is...

The river is polluted
the river is so polluted that testers wear two sets of gloves and other protective clothing
the river is eternal
the river is here home

the river is proud to be involved
the river is getting cleaner
the river is cleaning itself

the river is a woman i met her in the springtime
the river is the station that is known as the new music evolution

the river is a perfect metaphor of renewal and inspiration
the river is an organic soup

the river is so low
the river is quite limited
the river is part of our western psyche

the river is moving

the river is high
the river is just that

the river is just 50 yards away at this point

the river is so high
the river is a different kind of radio station
the river is composed of three separate and distinct sections; the high river (or high water)…
the river is posted with green and white diamond
the river is excellent when it leaves lake taupo

the river is great place to just relax and while away an afternoon
the river is virtually at sea level

the river is slower in maine

(brought to you by Googlism)

I was there

Is the title of an review of two live 1978 shows by The Grateful Dead at the Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI, and the Uni Dome, Univeristy of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls. It's a firsthand report that needed to be quoted in full on The River:

I attended this concert. It was my first Dead show and I didn't know any of the songs and yet I was spellbound. The concert was inside a covered ampitheater normally used for hockey. Since it was February, the rink was protected under plywood and the audience was left to wander about in a giant undulating mass - no seats, no rows, no mosh pits. Seemingly unknown forces moved us like waves across a tide pool. Sometimes we would be close to Jerry and then the next wave would move us past Bobby and Phil.

So what? After listening to this CD I recalled the force which moved us around - the roadies were opening and closing doors to let in cold air. On the CD Mickey and Bill can be heard asking for air and the audience immediately cheers to the rush of frigid Wisconsin winter. The response is a welcome to giant gusts of sub-zero across our faces. The roadies did not time the cool downs to match song resolution and jam transitions and thus the audience can be heard cheering for nothing audible.

This magical CD captures the nuances of wind, ice and audience and a memorable winter day with the Grateful Dead.

P.S. It snowed during the show and when we left all our cars were under a foot of white stuff.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Dennis for Prez, Willie for VP

Friday, August 01, 2003

What a long strange trip it’s been

You know why I started blogging? I wanted to write an article on it for a magazine, and I thought it best to start a blog to get some firsthand knowledge of the phenomenon. I’d heard about blogging through Chris Locke’s EGR newsletter, and I’d discovered Chris by somehow stumbling upon The Cluetrain Manifesto Web site. The magazine I worked on is now defunct, but the company isn’t. It’s a Fortune 50 (er, was) telecommunications company. The quarterly magazine was for business customers, a way for sales reps to deliver our product catalog, published in the back of every issue, while hopefully sparking a few conversations about the cool technology and applications covered in the articles, technology the company’s services supported.

So I started my blog one night, from home. It felt a little strange typing in the first post, hitting publish, and having it out there. I’d written hundreds of magazine articles, some of which were published on the Web, but this was different. Everything I’d written before had some story to tell, information deemed of interest to a clearly defined audience. There was no reason for writing on the blog except to speak.

And what did I have to say? Not much at first. Most of the blogs I’d seen were heavy on the links and light on the writing, so I went with that style. It seemed the safest, and since I was writing a story on blogs for work, I figured some might wonder if I had started a blog myself, and find it. I was playing it safe, as most of us are in the corporate world. I didn’t come to work and talk about corrupt politicians or the evils of end-stage capitalism. And I wasn’t going to do it on my blog, where the VP of marketing communications could see it. Sure, anyone could broach these subjects at work, theoretically, but no one does. A), most people don’t concern themselves, B), it tends to make people nervous, and C), they’d look at me, especially, as if I’d lost my mind.

And my company wouldn’t need to confront me with it. They’d simply mark me down somewhere, even if just as a mental note, as a malcontent, and when the time came to draw up names for layoff, there I’d be. As the Clash sang, “You have the right to free speech. As long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it!”

No, I kept my nose clean, my head down. I was “Still shaking the bush, boss,” as a Cool Hand Luke character once put it. I worked on my magazine articles and other editing and writing projects, but took frequent breaks to surf the Internet. Even before starting my blog, I would surf at work and send links to the best stuff to a good friend I chatted with on IM.

Then news broke of my company defrauding investors -- big time. Stocks plummeted. Scandal broke across the front pages of America. With my workplace totally discredited as any kind of honest outfit, my morale and that of my co-workers was abominable. We were pissed, not sure if we even wanted our jobs anymore, if indeed they were still viable. Not only did I, and others, feel suddenly free to talk about the idiocy of the overpaid excecs steering the corporate ship, but I also had little reason to hold back anymore on the blogging. So, as one of my first blog buddies memorably put it, I let fly.

As I let myself run farther and farther with my thoughts and feelings on what I began to see as not just one company’s hubris and downfall, but America’s as well, I got more and more paranoid that someone at work would discover my blog. A high-profile client I’d written a case study on could search for my name on Google, find my blog, and complain to my company. My boss could just get curious one day. Maybe he gets a report on my e-mail or Internet activity. And he might wonder: do we want this malcontent here? Is he using our computer and network to do this personal publishing? This company, by the way, has been through at least four rounds of layoffs in the past year or so.

Regardless, I was getting mighty political, and so was the country. The world was turned upside down, and, damn the torpedos, I had to make my views known. I had a blog; I was going to use it.

It was time, so our leaders said, to go to war. Even at this short remove, it seems unreal. Never have I seen the country so polarized. And both sides absolutely fearful of the result of either going to war, or not going to war. Both seeing the demise, whether through attack or internal corruption, of American prestige and power. Both, too, having widely divergent ideas on what those concepts represent.

The tide, or mass delusion whipped to a fine froth by the media and the dogs of power, was for war. In the face of this, and with some measure of my own delusion, I exercised my free speech rights. I even attended my city’s pitifully small protest on February 15. I saw people taking pictures and felt uneasy even then. I might appear on the daily newspaper’s front page. What would the neighbor’s think? I wondered just that when I planted the “war is not the answer” sign in my front yard.

These were all new, baby steps. How long had I went along to get along? How long had I subverted my beliefs, my thoughts, my feelings, my dreams? Well, not always and forever, but long enough to be caught in the middle of one hell of a corporate ethical meltdown, although not technically caught and not in the middle. Lost, hidden and undetected in the bowels of the beast.

And hidden is where I’ll stay for now. Assuming an alias, writing for myself, imagining a new story, wherein the beast swims off to its destiny, and I jump free.

I’ll have something to say about that.