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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

2018 Votes and Predictions




    Today is Election Day in America, the culmination(And probable stage-setter going forward) of many years of nasty, divisive partisan warfare. Whoever one is to blame, it cannot be denied that the last two years have provided much in the way of 'parlor intrigue.' With both sides revved up and ready to go, the big question is how Independents vote, which demographic blocs show up to vote, and how much in the way of cross-over voting occurs. The answer to any of these three questions will determine how the vast majority of elections across America shake out. However things go, the widespread calls for civility and decency are likely about to be bypassed entirely. As one person put it on HBO/Showtime's "The Circus" television series, "Historians will look back on the past two years as 'the calm years'."

    It is interesting that I am doing this again, having thoroughly blown several years of electoral predictions. Simply put, I've figured out that I am all too apt to go with head or heart in determining races as opposed to gut. For instance, my gut told me Obama and Trump would win in the last two races and that Nathan Deal would be re-elected without a runoff. Head and heart, however, wanted to believe the opposite(All parties involved were surprised when David Perdue notched his race without a runoff), so that's the opinion I often opted to put down. Those times I have gotten predictions right, mainly in 2014 when I was still making the 'rounds' at Politicaldog101, involved gut calls, which I am making my operating practice today.

    Having said all this, here are my predictions for how tonight will go down:


House


Republican Gains: AZ-1, CA-16, MN-8, PA-14

Democratic Gains: Alaska at Large, AZ-2, CA-1, CA-4, CA-10, CA-25, CA-39, CA-42, CA-45, CA-48, CA-49, CA-50, CO-6, FL-15, FL-16, FL-26, GA-6, GA-7, IL-6, IL-12, IL-13, IL-14, IN-2, IN-9, IA-1, IA-3, IA-4, KS-2, KS-3, KY-6, ME-2, MI-1, MI-6, MI-7, MI-8, MI-11, MN-2, MN-3, Montana at Large, NJ-2, NJ-3, NJ-7, NJ-11, NY-1, NY-2, NY-11, NY-19, NY-22, NY-23, NY-27, NC-2, NC-9, NC-13, OH-10, OH-12, OH-14, OK-5, PA-5, PA-6, PA-7, PA-10, PA-16, PA-17, SC-1, SC-5, TX-7, TX-10, TX-21, TX-31, TX-32, UT-4, VA-2, VA-5, VA-7, VA-10, WA-5, WA-8, WV-2, WI-1, WI-7

Democrats gain 76 seats in the US House, flipping control.


Senate


Republican Gains: Florida--For once, Trump gets it right. Incumbent Bill Nelson has been sleeping through this race. Of late, he has seemed to count on Democratic Gubernatorial nominee and likely victor Andrew Gillum and his ability to juice minority turnout. This is on paper a solid strategy, but turns out to be a double-edged sword as Rick Scott has unique strength among many minority voting blocs. With the latter's handling of the hurricane response, you will see a lot of people voting to give him a promotion to the Senate. Scott hits 50% and wins by around 2%.

Michigan--John James has proven to be one of the most under-rated candidates of this election cycle. Like Bill Nelson in Florida, incumbent Debbie Stabenow seems to be sleep-walking, thinking that this race has been over for a while. Polls have been tightening in recent weeks, indicating that Michigan on the whole might be in the mood to throw out both eight years of Governor Rick Snyder and three terms of Senator Stabenow, and opening the door to new blood in state politics.

Missouri--Bless her heart, Claire McCaskill has really given this race her all. However, even in a blue-trending national environment, she seems to be flailing in the closing stretch of the campaign.  This time around, she has had the ill fortune of facing moderately decent opposition in what is now a solidly red state. State Attorney General Josh Hawley has proved a slightly more focused candidate than either of McCaskill's two previous General Election opponents, which will pay off in a right trending state. Interestingly enough, there is a Democratic incumbent poised to swamp her Republican opposition for the State Auditor position, which shows that some voters are still willing to split their tickets. It also shows that McCaskill has not earned the trust of her constituents, under-performing a lower tier state-wide officer the way she is.

North Dakota--2012 fluke winner Heidi Heitkamp, who only won because of the naked opportunism of her opponent, then first term and job-hopping Congressman Rick Berg, has lost all mojo in the final stretch of the campaign. In fairness, she never really had any mojo to speak of(No poll ever had her in the lead). Now that the fiasco of the Brett Kavanagh hearing has played out, Heitkamp is behind by around 16 points in recent polling. Her predicament is much like that of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in 2006, sans the unfavourable national environment. She just cannot beat back the red hue of her state. My guess is Kevin Cramer wins 57-43.


Democratic Gains: Arizona--The Kavanaugh fiasco initially gave Martha McSally a bump in the polls, but now things have reverted back to where they were before the simultaneous GOP Primary and the passing of the legendary Senator John McCain: Narrow-to-modest leads for Kyrsten Sinema. With the Green Party candidate dropping out and endorsing the latter candidate, this race seems about finished.

Nevada--Home to some of the more dull, predictable races in recent memory, this one is going about as you would expect. Jacky Rosen is narrowly leading Incumbent Dean Heller in recent polls. Heller did not help his case when he flip-flopped during the debate over the 'Shaved Repeal' of the Affordable Care Act back in July, 2017. Coupled with state and national trends, all of this will be enough to give Rosen a modest win when the votes are tallied.

Tennessee--Former Governor Phil Bredesen is a much stronger candidate than anybody knows, and front-benching Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn is not likable to the Moderate friendly electorate in Tennessee. In the past four decades, the most boldly Conservative person to get elected to the Senate was the late former actor Fred Thompson. For the most part, the state elects Moderate voices like Howard Baker, Lamar Alexander, Bill Frist, and Bob Corker. Democrats like Al Gore and Bredesen himself have also been elected as Moderate candidates. Polls have consistently showed a tight race with small Blackburn leads, but this under-states the nature of the race. Blackburn has not defined herself well in the minds of many Tennesseans, while Bredesen has a very well liked image tailor-made for the state. The deciding votes will likely be determined in the voting booth, allowing Conservatives and Republican Moderates who like Bredesen more liberty to do as they wish.


Wild Cards: Indiana--Voters here like their politicians boring and low-key, and Senator Joe Donnelly fits that bill well. Case in point: Congressional front-bencher and future Vice President Mike Pence under-performs Mitt Romney's top ticket performance in his 2012 Governor race, yet his anonymous, non-descript Lieutenant Governor routs with Donald Trump in 2016. Mike Braun strikes a grandfatherly, yet still boat rocking image in a state that seems to thrive on no drama. Even with the partisan lean of the state, Donnelly should still win by 2-4%. Democratic hold.

Mississippi(Hyde-Smith)--This race goes to a runoff with Mike Espy. Cindy Hyde-Smith wins that round by around 8%, though juiced Democratic enthusiasm could put the race even more on the map. Republican hold.

Montana--Jon Tester ought to pull it out, but polls have tightened of late. With a consistent push from President Trump and his allies, Matt Rosendale is making this one much closer than was originally expected. Tester should still win by 1-2%. Democratic hold.

New Jersey--In addition to his own myriad ethics issues, Bob Menendez's re-election has further been hampered by the weather forecast for election day, which calls for late-afternoon severe weather, including an enhanced tornado risk. New Jersey has no early voting, which has set the stage for a tight race. An electorate saturated with negative advertising focused on Menendez's taking of gifts from a crooked, wealthy donor, the federal charges on which resulted in a hung jury and default acquittal. It is tough to discern whether or not New Jersey has enough Democrats to off-set any cataclysm(As was the case when Hurricane Sandy devastated the state in 2012, depressing Republican turnout on the way to a 19 point Menendez win) or if Bob Hugin has successfully caught lightning in a bottle to such a thorough extent that enthusiasm notches him the win. Tossup, with about half-a-percent difference between winner and loser.

Texas--This race is closer than expected, but Ted Cruz should still pull it out over Beto O'Rourke by around 3%. Texas is still a Republican state for now. Republican hold.


Governorships


Republican Gains: Alaska--While Centrist Independent Governor Bill Walker's departure creates an opening for former Senator Mark Begich's campaign, State Legislator Mike Dunleavy should still be favoured to pick off this seat in what is still a Republican leaning state.

Oregon--Incumbent Kate Brown, as a known commodity having served in many statewide capacities, has not been able to put away her challenger, State Legislator Knute Buehler, in her race. A bold Progressive, she strikes the same pose and tones as 2016 Secretary of State candidate Brad Avakian, who surprisingly lost to Republican Dennis Richardson even as all of Hillary Clinton, Senator Ron Wyden, and Kate Brown herself were all winning the state by modest-to-solid margins. Oregon is a Liberal state, but there are apparently limits to what the voters will handle from a Democrat. Polls have shown consistent Brown leads, but by low to middle single digit margins and with the incumbent under 50%. Given the trend lines and Oregon's ability to occasionally hand Republican's key offices with cross-party voters, Buehler looks like an upset winner.

Democratic Gains: Florida--Not only has Andrew Gillum run an almost perfect campaign in spite of the lingering questions over the FBI investigation into his Mayoral office, but his opponent, Ron DeSantis, has engaged in one of the more incompetent and forgettable(To say nothing of nasty) campaigns in recent memory. Gillum will break the two decade streak of Republican victories, winning by around 10%.

Georgia--Polls don't entirely show it, but I seriously believe Stacey Abrams has a chance to not only come out on top, but also to clear 50% and win outright. Two factors to keep an eye on here in terms of big voting motivators: Stacey Abrams and Donald Trump. While Trump excites Conservatives and Republicans as no one else can, the excitement generated by him has a hard and fast ceiling outside those circles. Abrams by herself generates enthusiasm from long-disillusioned state Democrats and many Independents, and the enthusiasm is spreading across all corners of the state. Brian Kemp, on the other hand, doesn't gin up excitement by himself, apart from that which surrounds President Trump's support. Enthusiasm pays, even in nominally red states like Georgia. So not only do I think Abrams can win outright, but she can also pull in several row office candidates along the way.

Illinois--Incumbent Bruce Rauner has been dead on arrival for a while in his re-election quest against JB Pritzker. In fact, no poll has shown him reaching 40%. While I think right wing third parties will fade a bit going into the election, all signs point to a landslide defeat.

Iowa--After eight years of Republican Governors Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds, voters are hungering for a change. Fred Hubbell ousts Reynolds 51-45.

Kansas--Like in the Tennessee Senate race, Kansas voters prize moderation in a leader, a trait not even slightly seen in Secretary of State Kris Kobach. State Legislator Laura Kelly has run a competent campaign, scoring considerable cross-over support on the way to what will probably be a narrow win. Like Blackburn, Kobach can't close the deal with a very Republican electorate.

Ohio--Though President Trump remains relatively popular with Ohioans, voters are ready for changes and checks on powers. Richard Cordray narrowly rides in on Senator Sherrod Brown's coat-tails, dealing Mike DeWine his second defeat in a blue wave this century.

Oklahoma--Though Oklahoma is one of the most Republican states in the country, Kevin Stitt finds himself running against the headwinds of the unpopularity of Incumbent Governor Mary Fallin. With numerous Democratic Special Election victories in ruby red Legislative districts, it is not impossible to fathom a Democratic victory even in the worst of circumstances. However, the party has fielded one of their strongest ever candidates, former Attorney General and political scion Drew Edmondson. With the state's history of cross-over support and electing Democrats, Republicans will have a very hard time holding on to this seat. Edmondson by 51%-47%.

Maine--Maine has generally leaned Democratic over the past three decades. That said, this decade has seen some growth in terms of Republican office-holders. This year will be different, as current trends are working against Republican candidates and in favour of Democrats. With Democrats running Attorney General Janet Mills and Republicans going with former third party Gubernatorial nominee Shawn Moody, the race is pretty well set in place. After eight years of Governor Paul LePage, voters seem to be opting for change. Mills clears 50% before the second choice balloting is tallied.

Michigan--After eight years of Governor Rick Snyder, Michiganders are clamoring for change. Gretchen Whitmer beats Bill Schuette 54%-44%.

Nevada--In the battle between two highly flawed candidates, state and national trends reign supreme. Steve Sisolak beats Adam Laxalt 49%-46%.

New Hampshire--Recent polls suggest that, like so many others before him, Incumbent Chris Sununu has been caught napping and is potentially poised for a modest defeat at the hands of State Legislator Molly Kelly. With all of New Hampshire's other major seats going to the Democrats, it would appear that the blue tide is just too much for him to handle.

South Dakota--Polls have shown a surprisingly tight race between Kristi Noem and Billie Sutton. Seemingly unusual for such a Republican state as this one, but there has been semi-recent precedent for electing Democrats to major offices, as recently as 2008. After four decades of GOP control of the Governorship, it seems voters may be wanting a change. Sutton wins by around 1-2%.

Wisconsin--After eight years of clashes between legislature Democrats and Governor Scott Walker, it appears the former is about to get its due. Walker has consistently trailed Tony Evers by mid-single digit margins. In as ancestrally a blue state as this one, and even in some of the red states previously listed, this is not a good place to be, especially when you are one of the most known commodities in the state. Unlike his last bids, this time Democrats have fielded top drawer opposition which can take advantage of Wisconsin's historically blue hue. Evers by 52%-47%.



Wild Cards: California--Gavin Newsom ought to be crushing John Cox, but many polls have shown only a low-double digit margin for the former. In a state as Democratic as California, this is a true oddity, especially as the Senate race is a battle between a Liberal Democrat and a Bernie Sanders/Chris Murphy-styled Democrat. Newsom likely wins by around 15%, but such a win in as anti-Trump an environment as this one is a sturdy under-performace. An even greater under-performance cannot be ruled out, either(He won't lose in any scenario, by the way). You can bet Newsom would have lost if fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa had surged past Republican Cox in the Jungle Primary. Democratic hold.

New Mexico--Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham has run a weaker-than-expected campaign, creating an opening for fellow Congressman and 2008 US Senate nominee Steve Pearce, who has surprisingly shown a capacity for getting votes from across the aisle this time around. Polls show Lujan-Grisham leading Pearce by mid-single digits with under-to-around 50%. Like with the Bredesen situation out in Tennessee, voters seem to know Pearce better than his poorly defined opponent. Given some of the discontent on the ground and the fact that Pearce has seemed to re-invent his image in the eyes of the voters, a 3% Pearce win seems the most reasonable result, but he could just as easily lose on the lean of the state. Republican hold.

South Carolina--Governor Henry McMaster will win over State Legislator James Smith on the partisan lean of his state, but not by as big a margin as you would expect. 54-43 McMaster. Republican hold.

Vermont--Governor Phil Scott is favoured to win, but finds himself with unique vulnerabilities going into Election Night. Republican enthusiasm in Vermont will likely be muted, as they have fielded not many serious candidates for the other major offices on the ballot. However, one vulnerability of Scott's jumps out: He signed a gun restriction bill into law, angering many of the state's Conservative voters. It remains to be seen how many of them will just stay home, and what difference this will make. After all, Scott has proven cross-over vote-getting abilities. Christine Hallquist is an untested commodity, though she has the sole advantage of running in a blue state. Scott by 7%. Republican hold.






    Truthfully, it remains to be seen whether or not I will continue my political associations after today. I have found it very hard to find much of anything worth supporting these days. With Republicans having embraced the rat poison and the Democrats seeming to think the answer is to swallow their own name brand of poison, it's a mess out there. And Libertarians, with their constant emphasis on self enrichment and aggrandizement of all kinds, are no option for me. You can't convince me that Trump is somebody I should vote for(Not a good character), but you can easily convince me that some good has come from it all and that there are many more worse options out there. At some point, there will come people who make the present crowd look tame by comparison, which might necessitate the need for me to make a clean break from politics before I slide down the slippery slope of justifying one evil as opposed to the other.

    Moreover, I continue to realize the truth of something I had considered back in 2012, after meeting a lovely young lady who I fell for: There is more to life than politics. There is, in fact, a whole world outside the political sphere. Life is more than the insults and the degradation. People are people regardless of the conclusions they come to have, and don't usually deserve your dose of cynicism. Then again, I understand some people are either paid to or aspire to be paid to be just the opposite. That is another discussion for another day. While I expect the already high temperature of American politics to soar even further before it all comes to a cataclysmic head, the clarion call for basic decency and, yes, love still sounds. It may just be that stepping away from politics might be, for me, the best way to achieve that end.

    A final note, yet one more important than all the others, is that the Lord Jesus Christ instructed us to "Be in the world, but not of the world." Some apply this to one realm or another. As far as I am concerned, politics and the power that comes from it is counterfeit compared to the real thing. All of this is just flash-paper: Here today, gone tomorrow. Nothing more than a worldly mechanism, but one with real consequences for a great many people. For those who choose to operate the political mechanisms, more power to you and may God grant you the wisdom to make good judgment calls. However, that is something in which I am increasingly not called to take part. Having made many flubs and otherwise bad calls in my decade plus in this political thing, I don't suppose I am suited to this anywhere as well as I am suited to other things.


My 2018 votes, from a Northern Georgia perspective...

Governor: Brian Kemp(R)
Lt. Governor: Sarah Riggs-Amico(D)
Secretary of State: John Barrow(D)
Attorney General: Charlie Bailey(D)
State School Superintendent: Richard Woods(R)
Agriculture Commissioner: Fred Swann(D)
Insurance Commissioner: Janice Laws(D)
Labour Commissioner: Mark Butler(R)
Public Service Commission 1st: Dawn Randolph(D)
PSC 2nd: Lindy Miller(D)
9th Congressional District: Josh McCall(D)
Constitutional Amendment 1: No
CA 2: No
CA 3: No
CA 4: No
CA 5: Yes
Ballot Initiative 1: No
BI 2: Yes






                            

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Day Tom Petty Died



    Some days just stick out in the memory banks like sore thumbs. One year ago today, October 2, 2017, is just that sort of a day. It is the day that one of music's great purveyors, Tom Petty, met his end. In a career spanning over four decades, Petty released some of the defining songs of the Rock music era. For me, one of the very finest musicians that ever cracked the charts. With the September 28 release of the career-spanning box-set "An American Treasure," we the listener get another reminder of how vital his music was and is to the 'Classic Rock' and 'Pop' genres of music. Looking into the treasure trove of previously unreleased, unheard material gives a unique window into the song-writing process that drove him throughout his life. Though Petty is gone, we can rest easy in knowing that his songs will likely as not survive in radio airplay until the end of the age.


     For some back-story, there was some angst on my part leading up to his passing, as well as a resurgence in his music's prominence in my life. Specifically, after reading the Warren Zanes-penned "Petty: The Biography" in February, 2017, I got this sinking feeling that he might not be much longer for the world, and that even he wasn't ready for it. As it turned out, this was right around the time he incurred his hip fracture which began the downward spiral. The feeling just never went away throughout the year, and was raised to a new level when he cancelled shows in August because of laringitis. There just seemed to be this sense of completion when I looked through his back-catalogue of music. I never would have voiced this at the time, but there was just something eerie and haunting looking over that landscape. Indescribable. I've never felt anything like that before or since looking over the career of a rocker who would later pass away.




    In the month leading up to his death, his music was on the unmistakable ascendance in my life. For me, it was largely about the lesser songs, though I still liked the hits that brought me to where I was. The song "It's Good to Be King" was one I had discovered very recently at that time, and it conveyed to me such power and essential truth to go along with it. The moment it clicked for me was when I had just triumphantly finished a political article in July, 2017, that had been in doubt after Blogger.com failed to save the file. Having re-counted the whole thing from memory, sans many of the weird and wiry tangents, I celebrated, and this was the first song that came into my head. Of course, "Room at the Top," then as now, loomed large as well. That one was the song I used for one of my very favourite videos and summed up one of my very low periods up to that point. "Too Good to Be True" also resonated with the already world weary part of me who was by then(And certainly so now) starting to realize that I had a problem in terms of using crushes on girls and ladies as a drug through which I could get high, a la snorting cocaine.


"It's good to get high and never come down. It's good to be king of your own little town."


    Those days before his passing are weird to remember since, unlike any other musician who passed in the last few years, his music was at the fore-front of my musical mind right at the time of his passing. Most of the others hadn't been touched in a while, and got a 'revival' of sorts when somebody would pass away. The day after his final concert, I burned a compilation CD of sorts, featuring tracks from many artists. I have done many of those through the years. On this disc, I placed "It's Good to Be King" right in the middle and listened to the CD as I did a road trip to Toccoa, GA, and visited their stellar Antique Mall and the wonderful book store on the city square. All those songs and Petty's song communicated many different things to me as I was making that trip. Still, this question kept nagging at me as I listened to his music: "What more can this guy do? He seems to have done everything musically." Like in 2011, when it was revealed to me a week prior to the reality that I was going to lose a very dear friend of mine for dead, I easily put this clear out of my mind.




    I remember for one reason or another spending the night at my Grandmother's house on October 1, in the lead up to the next day's trip into Athens, GA. Just before I left, I heard her temporary care-taker mention a sermon she had heard the day before about loving one another, juxtaposed with the news from later that night about the Las Vegas, NV, shooting, even in the earliest stages considered one of the deadliest in US history. I made it a point to shut out all news coverage that day, so that I could take in the joy of finally being able to do one of my trips on the rare off-day from work. Stopping off at home briefly before the trip, I burned an updated version of my REM 'best of' compilation so that I could have some appropriate driving music for the day. Deleted a couple of the more ill-advised original selections and replaced them with two later finds. The band served its purpose on the trip down Highway 129 in the crisp fall morning air of the new day. If you listen real close and take in the scenery as you get closer to Athens, you can actually hear the area ambience in the songs. But, you would have to have either a perfectly tuned ear and mind or a remarkable ability to pick up a morsel and fake the rest(I'm probably the latter).


    In a town like Athens, the day is not complete without three things: Combing through LP stacks, gazing at beautiful women, and eating at The Grill restaurant. The homeless people on the street corners, when I see them, can always use our help, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. In that way, Athens is good for a few Christian good deeds where they are needed. Combing through the LP stacks in one of the stores, Wuxtry Records if memory serves, I discovered a Tom Petty FM Radio broadcast LP for around $30. Recorded around 1987, this album featured a cover of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go," as well as a performance of then-new songs like "Jamming Me." This was very intriguing. I strongly considered buying this album, and slightly regret that I did not. Other things, I cannot remember what now, merited higher priority in my own estimation. After making my purchases there, I went over to my usual lunch destination.


    As I was sitting at The Grill, I took time to ponder my next move on a few things, as well as to survey where I'd been and what I could do better. With the news of the day, I had wanted to write an article tackling gun issues, one in a similar vein to the one I wrote after the Orlando, FL, massacre sans some of the rhetorical high-horsing I employed in the earlier piece. Also had wanted to do something on Steely Dan, as well as videos for the YouTube channel that were on my mind of late. I took a moment to look over the vast landscape of where I have been in both my online and real lives and, in a Facebook post, noted the odd similarity between myself and Tom Petty: That we both kept going on and doing things bigger and better that might not have otherwise seemed probable at the time. This was an ultimately futile exercise in goal-setting. It would also later and sadly become irony. I hit Jittery Joe's for a Chocolate Chip cookie and, given the Diet Coke intake at lunch, a nice long piss. Traded in a bunch of album's at one of the better record joints in town and bought side-project LP's of various members of the non-Jim Morrison members of the Doors before leaving the Downtown area for the day.





    About a quarter of 4 in the afternoon, I pulled into the parking lot of the Barnes & Noble store in Athens for the final music shopping run of the trip. REM's "Night Swimming" and it's booming, haunting piano chords played over the speakers as I put the car into 'park.' Once inside, I gazed at the magazine sections, pulling out an issue of "Shindig!" magazine which featured an article on Roger McGuinn of the Byrds and the making of that band's 1967 album "Younger than Yesterday." After combing through the magazine looking for new factual discoveries, I put it back and bee-lined for the music department. One must-do I had that day was to find and buy the George Harrison "Concert for Bangladesh" CD box set, as a friend of mine(Born the same year as Petty) had a birthday coming up about a month from then. I lustfully gazed through the sections leading up to the Harrison set, pulling out a few of interest, including Gregg Allman's "Laid Back" album that I ultimately bought. I got to the 'F-G-H' section and pulled out the Harrison set, scoped out the price, and went to look it up online. It was just a few minutes after 4 in the afternoon. As I was looking at comparison prices on Amazon, I got a text from my mother which simply gave out Tom Petty's name and age. I was initially confused, and briefly thought he had made an appearance on the CBS show "60 Minutes" until I realized to my utmost shock and horror what she was actually saying.


    As I was already online, I quickly forgot about the Harrison set(Bought it a month later on a return trip, same can't be said for the Petty FM Broadcast LP) and searched Petty's name on Google, Facebook, and Twitter to get a sense of what was happening. There were conflicting reports, but the consensus based on major sources was that he was dead from apparent cardiac arrest. It was flooring. The first thing I did after getting that news was to pick up the Allman CD, make my way towards the 'P' section of the music department, and pull out a copy of Petty and the Heartbreakers' debut album, which I hadn't thought much about up to that point. After getting those two selected for purchase, I walked through the Barnes & Noble store in a total daze, only stopping once I got to the music biography selection. The two books that caught my eye were "Petty: the Biography" and the book on Steely Dan, whose founding member and principal song-writer Walter Becker had died almost a month earlier. Truly unbelievable was it that good music was seemingly dying out at a rapid pace.


    After I got my stuff paid for, I went out to my car, shut the REM disc off,and tuned into Atlanta's rock music station 97.1 the River. The song "Mary Jane's Last Dance" was playing. While I never much liked the song before that moment in time, I turned up the volume and really got into it. When the song ended, I heard something I never heard before: Afternoon drive host and area radio legend Kaedy Kiley wept on air as she informed those of us who were just tuning in of the reports of Tom Petty's death. English Nick, another on-air personality who had adjourned a couple of hours earlier, also joined in with the special coverage. Throughout the next 2-3 hours, the hits and many lesser known songs and live versions were played on the air, in addition to remembrances from fans who called into the station. At some point, the hosts had to break the news that the Los Angeles Police Department had to walk back the reports that Petty had died, but added that he, having been pulled off life support, was not expected to survive the day. If I were really following the news that day, it would likely have been even more disorienting than it already was.




     The trip through Winder, Gainesville, and then back home that afternoon was the most utterly unreal car trip I have ever taken, and I've nearly gotten lost in rural SC and nearly stranded at a RaceWay station off Interstate 20 since then. I don't recall exactly what moment it was, though probably around the time I crossed from rural Oconee County into rural Barrow County, that the idea came to me that I should try joining the hordes of fans calling into the River to pay respects. Behind the wheel of my car, at various stop lights, I took a Sharpie pen and wrote on my hand an outline of what all I had wanted to say, including commentaries on life through music and various songs. On this count, the tribute piece from last year is the more comprehensive version of what I had wanted to say, sans the original plan of having commentary on the song "Jamming Me." After some consideration, I decided to pull into the parking lot of the Ingles in Winder, GA, and work up my courage to call into the radio station. I was as nervous as I had been in a long time, and it manifested itself in my rocking back and forth in my car and fidgeting a lot, working off that nervous energy. After some concerned citizens placed their calls and let their worries be known, I got paid a visit from one of the nice men at the Winder Police Department. I dutifully gave him my identification and insurance, and calmly explained the sort of unbelievable predicament I was experiencing, and also explaining that I do rock and fidget a lot. After verifying a few things, the officer gave me back my identification and allowed me to be on my merry way.


    Ultimately, the phone lines were jammed. I tried calling in somewhere between one and two dozen times before giving up the ghost. The memory I have of that involves my pulling into the gravel parking lot of a little Episcopal church in rural Jackson County off Highway 53 and placing about half-a-dozen of those failed calls. I was paranoid of getting another visit from the coppers, but at the same time I didn't care that much. This all was particularly embarrassing as I had put out the word to Facebook friends and personal acquaintances that I would be calling into 97.1 the River. Retracting that call was a pathetic moment for me. Fortunately, I was later to get the best of what all I wanted to say out there in the finished article product. After playing through a deep well of Petty's songs, the River went back to regular programming at 7 PM. I switched my REM disc back on, and the songs "Crush With Eyeliner" and "Strange Currencies" both took on an utterly haunting vibe given the crude, miserable news of the day. When those two and re-plays of a few of the other songs ended, I switched out that album for Petty's "Into the Great Wide Open" CD, which had served as my musical comfort during the last stage of the miserable 2016 Presidential election. This was the last of his music I heard while he was alive.



    After I got home, I quickly got a sketch-outline of my first Petty tribute piece drawn up so that I could go about getting that thing out as soon as the word became official, IF it were to have to become official. He was still among the living, barely, so there was hope on paper. I was up until 11 that night, both making my plans and keeping watch over the "Tom Petty Nation" Facebook group looking for any possible updates. At 3 AM, as planned, I woke up from my nap. The first thing I did was to check the TPN page, and it was then that it became official for me. The first thing I saw was a commenter posting "My hero is dead," and that confirmed everything. Over the next several hours, I got to both draw up my preliminary thoughts and absorb the tributes. The most resonating ones came from Neil Young(The last man standing, with Bob Dylan, as it regards continued innovation in music) and a person who posted his thoughts with the "Learning to Fly" music video embedded as a 'GIF' file. As crushing as the loss of a favourite musician was for me, with the help of the Lord, I was able to quickly get over my feelings of sadness(After all, he had been preparing me for this for eight months) and channel it into a video-making blitz on the YouTube page. Usually, if I ended up doing any at all, I would just do one video tribute when somebody important died(The Eagles and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer were notable exceptions). This time, though, I already had a cavalcade of video ideas just waiting to be worked on and released, and release them I did. In the year since Petty's passage, my videos featuring songs of his have ballooned from 25 to 74(As of today), with more to come.


    Nobody else in music has ever gotten that kind of treatment from my channel. He was truly something.



Monday, September 3, 2018

The Life and Legacy of John McCain








    Political titan John McCain passed away August 25 from brain cancer at age 81 after fighting the illness for over a year. In a congressional and military career spanning over six decades, McCain has been at the forefront of many of the biggest issues and historical events of the modern era. A Vietnam War veteran who served 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war, he later rose through the ranks and became Navy Liaison to the US Senate before serving two terms as US Representative from Suburban Phoenix, AZ, and six terms as a US Senator from the state of Arizona. In the latter position was where he gained the most visibility, chairing the Senate Armed Services Committee in his last years and the place he used as a spring-board to mount two Presidential campaigns. In the wake of his passing, McCain was lauded and celebrated by former Presidents and high ranking officials across the partisan divides, something that is in rare supply these days and speaks to his large stature in American life.

    My earliest ever political years involved a lot of bunker mentality Republicanism. When the war in Iraq was launched, there was talk of how the Iraqis would retaliate and how we needed to find a safe space in the lowest part of the house if need be. Ingrained in me at an early age was the need to fear the outside world and to detest all Democrats, something that took a very long time to be fully undone. The only things I ever knew about one Senator John McCain was that he was a top Republican who was in the media on a regular basis. He was also surprisingly not trusted amongst my Republican parents, who no doubt thought he tried pandering too much to Democrats by the standards of the talk radio people. In the 2004 election, I remember being excited watching the Democratic Primaries unfold, but promptly being told I wasn't supporting any of them because I was a Republican. I mentioned that Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Democrat, which elicited an angry response. So Bush it was, which I can't say was the worst choice against the miserable alternative of John Kerry. Lots of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity animated the radio airwaves throughout my youth, but it was Michael Savage, rhetorically and otherwise unlike any of the others, that I took to the most. Standard Republican fare ruled supreme in the interim period between the Presidential elections, with stretches where the rhetoric became more heated than usual. Leading up to the 2008 campaign, I was repeatedly told that the Avian Flu pandemic that was going worldwide would probably result in the cancellation of all elections. Pointing out the fallaciousness of all this was considered almost a high offense in my house. I needed something to get me excited, and politics at that moment in time seemed but one solid avenue.

    As the election of 2008 started to fully develop, as other seemingly impressive options had their shiny exteriors de-constructed, only Senator McCain seemed to retain the qualities that made him an attractive seeming choice. Not only had I determined that Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney were unappealing choices, but I had also come to regard them as fakers on the stump. One day, I came to the determination that I would support Senator McCain's bid for the White House. At the time, I felt he was the only one who had a chance against the historic candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Sure, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani could plausibly present himself as an above the fray option(At that time, at least), but I could never get excited over him. Fred Thompson was a nice thought, but also uninspiring. To do the 'endorsement' of McCain required me to step out of my life's old brown shoe and think for myself, which earned me the early ire of one or both of my parents, who weren't McCain fans and had not raised me to think for myself. To say I felt utterly vindicated as he rose from the ashes and marched to the GOP Presidential nomination would be an under-statement. As I learned more about him, I fell more into awe over his life's story, his objectives as an aspiring President, and his over-arching vision for the country. He was the first person I ever enthusiastically supported for any office, and it was a powerful feeling to see him vault into contention for the highest office in the land.

    Admittedly, I was not ecstatic, to say the very least, when he chose Sarah Palin as a running mate. In fact, there was never a moment I didn't scratch my head over that one. A clear play to the "Party Unity My @$$" crowd that had formed in the wake of Senator Barack Obama's narrow, surprise win over Hillary Clinton, the move smacked of...shall we say something less than the 'maverick' tendencies he had always played up for the media. In fact, my dream scenario involved an Electoral College split that gave the Presidency to McCain and the Vice Presidency to then-Delaware Senator Joe Biden. However, none of this shook my confidence in McCain's ability to lead the country. Even through the electorally decisive financial crisis, I found his demeanor and the general tenor of the campaign reassuring, less so Obama's, in the tumultuous time we were facing at that time. I was fully convinced that if anybody could defy the odds and win the election that year, it was McCain. Mike "George W. Bush, Mach II" Huckabee and Mitt "Bain Capital" Romney would have fared far worse, as far as I can tell. I had even thought that McCain would be the best option to bring the country together in that time of great turmoil, both domestically and overseas. That said, for as much as I knew about how he was doing in the polls in the lead up to the election, I was still taken very far aback by the ultimate result.






    Nothing prepared me for McCain's ultimate landslide defeat at the hands of President-elect Obama, and the fact that I was already fearful of what was going to happen economically made it worse. I had not felt Obama was sufficiently prepared to handle such a catastrophe right off the bat, as versed in the facts and policies as he was. Even at such an early age, I was already worried about how these things would impact people who were not me. Granted, a great many of those people for whom I was looking out were the attractive women of the Fox Business channel upon whom I had rather potent crushes, which only amplified my sense of fear and dread in regards to the economic state.The 'Bunker-Mentality Republicanism' that loomed large in my household compounded matters exponentially. I was not naturally consigned to viewing things through an optimistic lens.

    Still, even in the backdrop of all this, there were apparent rays of hope to be seen just over the horizon. In the 2 1/2 months between the election of Obama and the premier of Glenn Beck's Fox News program on the eve of the Inauguration, I still yet made the effort to view things in as optimistic lens as I could. There was speculation at the time that incoming President Obama might govern from a more Moderate perspective, and that was something nice to hear. My worries were briefly assuaged. McCain's conciliatory gestures in his concession speech and going forward, joined with outgoing President George W. Bush and members of his Presidential Cabinet, gave me hope that things would not be as bad as irrational actors in my life were making it all out to be. However, once I was sucked into the vortex of Beck, my willingness to give President Obama any benefit of the doubt went out the window fast. By the time the Tea Party came on the scene some months later, I was buying into a lot of the anti-Obama conspiracies budding at the time(Though, funnily enough, I seldom got into or even remotely understood 'Birtherism'), and was even creating a few elaborate ones myself.

    Even journeying through the depths of the ideological extremist morass and rubbing shoulders with true blogospheric scum as I did, I somehow developed a keen eye for and respect of the qualities of morality and basic human decency. In part based upon how I would want my favourite ladies on television to be treated in...shall we say high stakes circumstances, these were decent qualities and life lessons for one to take away from such people, places, and things. You could even say that my experiences online gave me the right perspective on these matters. As I would progress in life, I would see the wisdom of this mindset. The way you show somebody that you value them is not to say a bunch of absurdities and over-blown accolades(Just to name but one example), but to actually show your appreciation in your actions. The world is already cluttered full of empty words, but solid, respectable actions are on rare display. John McCain, being the first person I enthusiastically supported for higher office, provided the perfect template for the moral decency I had come to prize. While an admittedly imperfect man, he was still the rare one who actually tried to walk the walk after talking the talk. Throughout both his family life and his public, political life, he was always trying to project the image of somebody who tried to surmount the usual muck and mire and give himself over to the more timeless aspects of human nature.









    It is quite something to see how these people started out and rose through the ranks to become giants of the political arena. While most Congressmen and Senators will be forgotten long before they are gone, there are a handful who become legends in both their own time and for all time. While you can easily forget about Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Paul Ryan, history will remember for a long time the likes of John S. McCain III, Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy, and Robert C. Byrd. McCain, the son and grandson of four star admirals, rose to become Navy Liason to the US Senate and later Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Kennedy, an heir and later patriarch to a legendary political dynasty, rose to become a high ranking Senate Democrat early in his career before taking a back seat and ultimately spear-heading Education, Health Care, and Labour Force initiatives in the last decade of his life. Byrd, a former Grand Dragon for the West Virginia chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, rose to become the foremost Senate Democrat in the latter three decades of his life, serving in such positions as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, both Senate Minority and Majority Leader, and President Pro-Tempore of the US Senate(The latter-most being within the direct chain of succession to the Presidency). In a mea culpa, he renounced his old segregationist ways and became a leading integrationist voice of the Senate. Likewise to a lesser extent with McCain, who quickly came to regret a House vote he made against the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. The twists and turns people take in their lives are something to behold. This mysterious mindset that dictates that one should be never-changing, almost automatonic, once we come to a strongly-held belief and values system simply beggars belief.

    Unlike the "religious" right people who pridefully shove their "faith" in other peoples' faces, McCain used the old tried and true method of using his own personal example as a witness in a dark world. And oh, what a powerful witness it was! As a prisoner of war, he was the man who led his fellow prisoners in candle-lit services, with McCain speaking word-for-word from his recollection of the Episcopalian liturgies of his youth. However, it was in adopting Bangladesh-born Bridget McCain where one sees probably the best example of his faith at work. He had no foreknowledge of what was going to come his way as he was going down to pick up his wife, Cindy, from the airport after her most recent mission trip to one of Mother Teresa's orphanages. That he, without any sense before-hand, found it in himself to take this little girl in and give her the love and support she needed is as strong a testament to the man's faith as you will find. Sometimes, we will not have any knowledge of what is about to come our way. How we handle it shows who we truly are. Ironically or not, it was some of the 'vocally faithful' people("All talk, no action"--Donald J. Trump, 2015) who in both his national races spread the word about his adopted daughter, accusing McCain of having had an illicit affair. Everybody knows what was really at the heart of all this, so I don't need to get much further into this. Without taking the standard lines, I would like to pose a question. Who is in better standing in the eyes of the Lord: The one who does what he says or the one who only loudly repeats what he says?

    For many years, I have had numerous regrets in regards to McCain's defeats for the White House. Mainly in regards to the 2008 race, though lately I have wondered how different things would have been had he won in 2000. Would the 9/11 terrorist attacks have still happened? Probably, but he would have served as a far less divisive, opportunistic leader for the country at that moment than the one we ultimately got. The discourse of politics would surely have still fallen, but perhaps not as far as it has here in the real world. From the last national race he ran, he showed a willingness to think outside the box and embrace ideas not commonly espoused at the time. For one thing, he was one of the only people I ever remember who either proposed or latched on to the idea of Wal-Mart clinics, making health care more affordable and available to those less fortunate. Predictably, most medical professionals backed Obama, who represented both business as usual and continued revenue for them and their friends. McCain also backed offshore oil drilling and the Iraqi troop surge when no one else would touch those issues. Had he been selected the second time out, you can bet the bungled Iraqi operation would have been more effectively prosecuted and led to a better conclusion than what we have now. For a man as respectable and valorous as John McCain to lose out on being President of the United States seemed somehow criminal, though I am now more able to process all that went down in those elections.






    By 2014/2015, I was once again expressing my disdain of the empty suits who were clamouring for the White House, this time for the GOP Presidential nomination. This disdain manifested itself in my puffing up, and probably being the earliest supporter of, one Donald J. Trump, businessman and reality TV star. The 'puffery' took on zany extremes in the early going, before he actually jumped into the race. I envisioned him to be George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln combined, which is not how he turned out at all. However, I can say there was always a part of me that realized my support of him was a reaction to what I was seeing as gross ineptitude throughout the early stages of the campaign. When my mother, who was always fiercely against Trump, posed the question to me "Trump or McCain?," I briefly hedged before choosing McCain. Trump may have been, at that time in my own eyes, the best choice of the field, but McCain represented something timeless that was lacking in everybody running this go-around. All of this was placed even more in focus when Deferment Donald made his classless remarks about McCain's war service.

    After the span of a month of enduring watching the candidate of my choice doing nothing but hurling insults instead of being the unifier I had hoped he would be, I decided in August, 2015, that I couldn't support Trump any further. Months later, his floating the idea of giving Muslims 'identifying symbols,' a la Jews and the Star of David in the 1930's and 1940's, sealed it for me. In the early months of 2016, as the Primaries were rapidly producing the unfortunate party nominee, McCain disappointed me by expressing his "support for the nominee of our party," even after that probable nominee had disparaged him on numerous occasions. Even radio icon Don Imus, himself a Trump supporter, was disappointed when his friend Mr. McCain would deliver his 'party nominee' rationale in response to the inevitable question. Amusingly enough, it was Mitt Romney, 2012 GOP Presidential nominee and 2008 runner-up to McCain, who was taking the most vocal stands against Trump. Romney, who had never once taken a concrete stand on any issue apart from his own self promotion, was now the 'moral voice' of the 'Never Trump' movement. All of this changed after the infamous tape of Trump boasting about grabbing women came out, and McCain, reportedly already spurred on by Trump's previous statements about the Muslim parents of a fallen soldier, rescinded his endorsement. Unlike most of the jokers who had claimed to have rescinded their support or were claiming to have not supported him in the first place, McCain never relented. He had no reason to do so.

    After his shock brain cancer diagnosis in July, 2017, Senator McCain came back to Washington, DC, and let them all have it. In a speech I got to see over lunch at Burger King, he absolutely decried the rancorous atmosphere in Washington and throughout the nation, as well as the process through which the Republican-backed 'ObamaCare Shaved Repeal' was crafted. He blasted Washington's inability to get anything done, and let out a final broadside against the radio talkers and television pundits who play the victim, yet actually own most of these politicians and are all the embodiment of 'the swamp.' It was an incredible, inspiring moment. Of course, he disappointed a lot of people by voting to begin debate on the bill. Many of the Liberals who praise him now were calling him a traitor and demanding that he not pursue cancer treatments covered by ObamaCare. While I felt some apprehension and disappointment over his actions myself, I was not about to align myself with scum. Still, I felt a certain sadness throughout the day as I realized I might have to write off a political hero in the sunset of his life. With continued delays to the vote, I was not able to be awake when the deciding vote was made. In fact, I had assumed it would pass and that President Trump would get a big legislative accomplishment. Awaking the next morning, I learned to my surprise that not only had the 'shaved repeal' gone down in flames, but that McCain had been the decisive vote that took it down. His reputation was sealed for me.

    So, I was walking outside a few days back, and I had wondered if we here in Northern Georgia were on McCain's flight path to Washington. He is unquestionably the only politician who ever earned my respect, and the only one who I ever trekked down to Books-A-Million in Gainesville so that I could buy their new memoir("The Restless Wave," just a few months back). Indeed, it is entirely possible that John McCain is the most significant figure in American history since George Washington, and certainly the most significant political figure in the modern era. He never denigrated people for not sharing his beliefs, only going so far as to express why he disagreed and sometimes going further and saying the person was unqualified for the offices they sought(Ted Cruz, Barack Obama, Rand Paul, and Donald Trump). He never went out of his way to be an ass to get his point across. Politics going forward in the post-McCain era looks incredibly grim. For every McCain and Joe Biden, there's hundreds of 'Info-warriors' out to pervert the truth for their own selfish gain. Where this all goes is anybody's guess, but we can rest assured, as McCain himself did, that the Lord has it all figured out.









From McCain's Farewell Address to the Country:

    "I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures, and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else's."

    "We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes villify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do."

    "Do not despair of our present difficulties, but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history."




RIP Senator McCain

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The American Odyssey of Anthony Bourdain







    Television icon, best-selling author, and renown chef & food critic Anthony Bourdain died Friday, June 8, at 61 years old in an apparent suicide-by-hanging while on location for his CNN-aired "Parts Unknown" show in Strasbourg, France. A late bloomer to the burgeoning celebrity culture, Bourdain had cultivated an image in the past two decades as a globe-trotting TV host and culinary wizard. In his day, he defied the standard norms of television and book writing. Being one who ventured into topics and realms beyond food, he was almost to the level of a journeyman figure in American life. The episodes of "Parts Unknown" were crafted in such an intricate way as to take the viewer on a journey to a world totally unknown to most people. His loss shakes many people and places to the core, and once again opens up a discussion of the stigmatization of mental health illnesses.


    It's a funny thing how something like this works. I remember, shortly after midnight on June 8, seeing this star shoot across the sky towards the general area of a stack of clouds. When the star disappeared, there came several successive flashes of lightning. There has been, in my memory, a decent correlation between major shooting stars and the death of major figures in one realm or another. Several times when a musician of note passes away, I will see one of those distinct light shows brighten the sky. However, as they have been on my mind of late, I was thinking more George H.W. Bush or John McCain. When I woke up later in the morning and heard someone on TV talking about someone being remembered for his "great, adventurous spirit," I automatically assumed McCain had passed. Instead, the headline read "CNN's Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61," which definitely rates right up there with that time I saw the headline "Prince Dead at 57" in terms of shock value. The true significance of his death hits in new ways from time to time, but I doubt the full realization has yet come.


   When the 'Parts Unknown' show was first announced as a new part of the CNN lineup in 2013, I was at first very unsure of both how I would like it and the wisdom of airing such a show. The idea of a food and travel show on a 24/7 cable news channel struck me as an odd one. Not even Fox and MSNBC were doing totally non-news programming, though they did and do inject lots of tabloid-worthy coverage into the mainstream. Couple this with the fact that Anthony Bourdain had attained Emeril-level status symbolism as a Food Network personality and beyond, and the choice seemed dubious at best. Perhaps it was a matter of doing anything and everything to right the ratings ship, I don't know. From the outset, it seemed on paper like a Fox News/MSNBC-worthy effort at tackling 'Tabloid TV' for ratings gain. Clearly, though, the top brass at CNN knew something we did not. That said, it can be fairly said that my expectations going in were not high.


    Can't remember exactly when it was that I first saw his show. However, whenever it was, I was right off the bat taken away by his unique, often gauche sense of humour. Also cutting against my first blush impression, the show wasn't just about food. The show covered travel, which was something I was then just starting to do with my road trips throughout the state. Cultures were revealed to the average viewer that would have otherwise been obscured indefinitely. He also weaved politics into his shows, which always took me out of my comfort zone in a good way. Even in the morass of my now long gone days as a flame-throwing Trump supporter, I strongly respected his diametric opposite opinion. For one thing, he was tackling the spectre of Trump from a restaurant perspective('The whole industry would collapse if we built a wall and deported them'), and not from a rehearsed partisan view. I wholly resent people who talk as a sheet of paper instead of as themselves! Bourdain was communicating as himself, who he really was, and not as a fiction ideal. Moreover, when you saw him in pictures at a white tie affair, he always looked uncomfortable in a suit. He was definitely more common man than elitist snob, in that and many other ways.


    The teaser for his shining moment came in the Fall of 2015, when Bourdain was doing the late-night circuit promoting the new season of "Parts Unknown." During an interview with South Carolina native son Stephen Colbert, our culinary correspondent dropped the ultimate bomb-shell: He had been to, and liked, Waffle House. For those who have followed him for even a little bit, this was a major shocker. The man who panned the vast majority of commercial food depot's was now singing the praises of Waffle House. Intrigued, my mother and I made a note to watch that particular episode of the show. It did not disappoint. One of the marvels of that episode was the writing and communication techniques employed in Bourdain's delivery. You could tell he had an active mind and that he carefully considered every word that would make his points and paint for the audience a verbal portrait. That episode and Bourdain himself somehow took on greater meaning in my life, as the end of 2015 was a period in my life where I was suddenly realizing that I was a rudderless mess, without any sense of where I was going. Guys like him and Don Imus became faces and voices of levity at a time when I nearly drowned in my own depression, and I think both would have gotten a good laugh from that.


    The 2016/2017 episodes from New York, New Jersey, & Los Angeles, CA, showed Bourdain taking in aspects of the big city that very few others are inclined to try. Most people want to dine high end on someone else's dime, while Bourdain himself took the viewer to the cafeterias and the diners and spoke to owners, workers, and patrons alike. Looking here at Atlanta, most people would clamour for seats at places like the Sun Dial Restaurant, Universal Joint, and the food revue at Music Midtown, and put on their most garishly oafish public displays, puffing themselves(For the benefit of other people, of course) to astronomical degrees. As to me, I like to check in and see what the cool people are up to over at the likes of Wendy's and Long John Silver's. As you would expect, LA provided a good cultural look at different elements of the American alchemy. While there, just like with the shock of his digging the Waffle House, he also surprised us with his expressed adoration of the In and Out Burger restaurant chain(Post mortem, it also comes to my attention that he also loved Popeye's chicken). New Jersey showed the culinary correspondent reminiscing on lost youth and lamenting how a once-beautiful beach now has the Trump Casino("The enemy of the human spirit.") as part of its view. In New York, over several episodes, he gave viewers the grand tour of the city-scape and gave me ideas of where to go and what to do should I ever find myself up there. How, indeed, should I go about navigating the Bronx and Brooklyn? Those episodes gave me a starting position from which I can take things in the future.


    In June, 2017, when a friend of mine didn't show up to help me with Vacation Bible School as he'd done in previous years, I brought in Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" book as a source of personal amusement and entertainment in his stead. My job at VBS was almost a nothing job, so I had ample time, time made more voluminous by my friend's absence, to read. In that time, I managed to get over 80% of the book finished(Small book), and it was a true delight as well as a wonderful distraction from my now-moribund relationship with that church. He had a highly idiosyncratic way of looking at things, to be sure. The tome recalled his life experiences over the course of his first four decades, regaling with lessons learned and un-learned in that time. From his experiences, I had some things with which to identify, especially as I once did a 'working interview' with a local sit-down restaurant back in 2015. It was an illuminating experience that I hope I never have to repeat, and Bourdain's book confirms the truth of a lot of what I came away with from that experience. He also made it a point to emphasize the importance of character in everything one does, as he says that "Character is not taught. You either are or aren't." Important words to let simmer.


    In the last episode I ever watched of "Parts Unknown" before his death, he took the viewer on a trip into West Virginia. Done more in an effort to help one and all understand that the people who are the back-bone of the Trump coalition are real people with real concerns, it also served as an illuminating look into Southern culture that you don't often see on television(Outside of a non-caricature setting). He took us into the coal fields and divulged the history of the area, going to great pains to emphasize the factors that took them out of the big leagues and also the perpetual cheery optimism that one day they will come back from the ruins. The a-religious Bourdain is recorded joining with families in prayer before dinner and having a polite exchange of ideas with the very Conservative people who are hosting him and his crew. In what may have been on of his seminal acts, he tried to show the world that there is a better way to communicate than through the tired tropes of division and resentment, even as he himself would have admitted that he did not always live up to the ideal.


    The suicides of both Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade bring back to the fore the touchy topic of mental health illnesses. Mental illness is a crisis as well understood as that of the opioid epidemic, and by that I mean not understood at all. My own personal battles have shown me that this is something that robs people of the ability to think rationally and clearly, leading them to conclusions very far from reality. Led to those conclusions, they take gruesome actions to rectify the imagined problem. Critics will no doubt come out of the wood work, telling us how suicide is selfish and how mental illness is only attention seeking. Clearly, neither of these "ideas" are true. Why would a person seek the attention by acting in a deranged manner? I'd imagine that few would want to embarrass themselves like that. Some classy people even feel the need to venture into the realm of conspiracies, calling Bourdain a secret supporter of thus and such movement, among other equally ridiculous claims. This is not a good thing. Besides, I could think of several more realistic, yet none the less still implausible, scenarios than the ones derived from InfoWars land. So sad that we've come to this point, in all ways.


    As to me, I will engage in my own personal tribute to Anthony Bourdain. Not involving video-making(Though there will be one of those coming up) or another write-up, mind you! One day, as I have already done a few times in years past, I will go to Waffle House and order what I call the 'Full Bourdain.' In keeping with the script to the still highly influential Charleston, SC-based episode of "Parts Unknown," I'll order scattered, heaped, and smothered hash browns, a pecan waffle, a patty melt, and a salad with thousand island dressing. Pork chop & T-bone steak optional. It is my hope that I can split this with somebody, as I can ill afford to kill myself with this heaping mess. Hopefully, I can snag proper female companionship between now and then(I'm specifically thinking of a young female former co-worker of mine who I've had eyes for over the past several months), so I can properly split these bad boys down the middle. Perhaps a dream, but it will all turn out some how, some way.


    "I feel like I’ve stolen a car, a really nice car, and I keep looking in the rear-view mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet."










RIP Anthony Bourdain



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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Doors of My Own Perception

    (Warning: Some content may not be suitable for mature audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.)




    The Doors have been one of my arch-favourite bands for a long time, and one of the biggest influences in terms of musical development that I have ever had. Very few bands commandeer the influence that these guys have. Off the top of my head, I would also include the likes of the Beatles and Tom Petty in with them. The memories made in my years of musical growth will always provide sources of entertainment and reflection through the coming years. For better and worse, I have been impacted by both the music and the history of this band more than the vast majority of others that came around in their time. Music and the people who make it come and go with the moods, but it takes remarkable staying power and a solid musical brew from start to finish to achieve such longevity that you keep coming back no matter the circumstances. The Doors, for whatever reasons, have done just that with me.



    The first ever memory I have of listening to a Doors song came around 2005. I was a grade schooler surfing the DirecTV music channels one night and happening upon some interesting oldies stations. One of them played Glen Campbell's song "Galveston," and another played a song called "Riders on the Storm" by a mysteriously-named group called the Doors. This was so unlike the songs and groups I had heard on Atlanta's then-Soft Rock radio station! My father happened to be in the same room at the time, and, as I was trailing off and falling asleep, he neatly tapped out the song rhythm on the blanket right over my knee. I remember thinking at the time "Well, this sure is interesting." Around a year later, as I was being properly introduced to the world of "Classic Rock," there were the Doors once again, this time with another song called "Light My Fire." Once again, I thought "Well, isn't this interesting." So interesting were those two songs to me that I considered investing in a Doors hits collection with birthday money. Only knowing the two songs made that idea an early strike-out in the process of deciding how to spent my newfangled 'riches.'


    In the Fall of 2008, as I was being introduced to the soundtrack of my lifetime via XM's "Top Tracks" and later Sirius/XM's "Classic Vinyl" channel, the Doors made a second play for my attention. With the song "People are Strange" and those hypnotic guitar tracks, they succeeded. "Love Me Two Times" cemented their status as a band to keep tabs on when the opportunities arose. They spent a solid year-and-a-half consistently inside my top 10 bands, but on the lower rungs. Everything changed in 2010, when I saw the new band documentary "When You're Strange: A Film About the Doors." It was an action-packed adventure, bringing me from high highs to low lows, back up, and then the flame out. The under-stated, yet implicit politics of the band coupled with the events and music of the day came to forge one hellacious brew. The experience vaulted the band from the lower rung of the top 10 to the #2 spot, before taking its rightful place at the top of the heap in even shorter order. In the coming weeks and months, I bought the "LA Woman" album and the self-titled debut album. More songs than just the hits drew me in. While you couldn't easily top the known songs off the debut album, the song "I Looked at You" certainly took a stab at it. The entrancing "Texas Radio and the Big Beat" and the gut-buster "Been Down So Long"(Which I now will not listen to at all) gave me a window into the band that few of the hits ever could. Obtaining and reading the Stephen Davis-penned biography "Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend" would also prove to be a foundational experience, a la the documentary. This newfangled, almost all-consuming enthusiasm continued unabated for over a year before flaming out just as it had flamed up.


    In late 2013, I was plunged deep in my own personal morass and was finding it very hard to deal with the world around me. Good friends were leaving and new friends were proving to be little more than wasted efforts. Before finding my way back to a faith place, I had music. That Christmas, per my own request admittedly, I received among other things the Doors' "The Soft Parade" CD, which completed my collection of the group's studio albums. I'd put it off for years because of the negative reviews. At another point in time previous to this one, I would not have cottoned to it the way I did. But when I put this record into my computer's disc drive and played the first song, I was so blown away by the force, the power, and the attitude conveyed by both lyrics and vocal delivery. This was epic stuff, and it provided the best soundtrack going forward. That Christmas Morning proved to be one of my finest memories from the entire year, and few before or since could ever begin to approach it. In the new year, with everything both good and bad collapsing all around me, it was once again the Doors, in particular the 'new' album, that factored into my musical consciousness. It was in this period when I discovered probably the finest song the band ever did. The song is called "Wishful Sinful," was the second-highest charting single from the 'Soft Parade' album in 1969, and has the most haunting lyrics that felt so right at that time. The Doors faded once again as newer problems arose, but it would not be the last time I heard from them.


    By March of 2017, after a spurt of time rejecting them as being "Devil's music," the band and I had a 're-connection' of sorts. I randomly decided to put on some headphones and listen to a track or two. That track or two became about an album's worth of material. With dissatisfaction with my present employer situation starting to brew and a crush I had on a female classmate reaching an apex point, the music of the Doors resonated as never before. This go around, though, I was much smarter. With a then still-new Christian faith guiding me, I was able to steer clear of the Morrison cult-of-personality morass and just enjoy the music. The music may not have been the classic definition of 'spiritually emboldening,' but it gave me peculiar hope at a time when I now realize I needed it the most. When I said goodbye to my crush(One of my better ones at that), goodbye to my job, goodbye to the church I had attended for over a decade, and hello to new horizons, there was the Doors(Emerson, Lake, and Palmer also played an out-sized musical role at that time, the only other band who kept up). Inspired by my new Doors travails, I started branching into solo material and side projects of various band members. While Ray Manzarek's solo albums are the embodiment of nothing special, I did check into Robby Krieger's albums, the Butts Band(Krieger and John Densmore jamming on funk styles), and the Nite City album(A Manzarek spin-off group complete with a Morrison impersonator as singer). Will check back in later when I have listened to these recordings.




    In the early 21st century, original Doors drummer John Densmore sued former band-mates Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger for re-vamping the band line-up, now billed as "THE DOORS of the 21st Century," with a replacement for the irreplaceable Morrison(Ian Astbury of the Cult was one named prospect) fronting the band plus someone else doing drum duties(Stewart Copeland of the Police was a leading prospect). Were this nostalgia effort billed some other way, it would have been no big deal. However, not only did the other two members want to revive the old band, but they also tried to get away with putting the band's name in a large font, with the rest of the name in small print. At its core, the revival/non-revival of the Doors was a poorly disguised money grab, an effort to get into the nostalgia concert circuit helmed by such bands as Three Dog Night, the Temptations, the Grass Roots, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and Classics IV.


    Members of the Doors were legendary for their willingness to stand up to commercial forces who wanted to co-opt their music. Jim Morrison himself vulgarly chastised his band-mates for their quick willingness to give their hit single "Light My Fire" over to the Buick car company for usage in a television commercial("Come on, BUICK, light my fire!"). After Morrison's tragic demise, Mr. Densmore picked up the mantle of protecting the songs from being tarnished by commercial elements, while acknowledging the reasons why up-and-comers and fellow music legends like Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, and Pete Townshend would go the other way on these matters. This gets down to the issue of what music is really about. At its core, music relays messages, and people interpret those messages however they will. In listening to music, memories are made. More than the souvenirs you get from the gift shop after hiking around Cloudland Canyon, memories are forever cherished. To hear those musical sounds that underpin your memories being used to promote the rival company's product(Think Pepsi, for Coke and RC Cola fans) diminishes the impact and potency of once precious memories.


    What Densmore did by suing to fore-stall the re-vamped Doors line-up was a noble effort which provides a template for members of bands/corporate entities like the Eagles to go rogue and put the kibosh on these elaborate money-making schemes. Bands are supposed to do it for the music, and not the paycheck. The money comes as a bonus if the music happens to be of high quality. Average people, not the shadowy people who book the tours and RSVP the resorts, make the ultimate call in terms of whether or not the music is of good quality. Densmore(Unlike, say, Don Henley) understands that the people made the call on the Doors long ago and are still making the call today, without anyone pushing their 70+ year old bones out in front of similarly-aged audiences under the insincere pretence of giving a performance where people can pay thousands of dollars for good seats and quality refreshments. At the core of the Doors' aura is the music, and none of that other stuff you've heard about.






    Ultimately, when you boil it all down, more than half the reason I became a Doors super fan in the first place can be pinned down to the ceaseless affections I have towards Morrison's lovely, red-headed girl friend Pamela Courson. From the moment I became even vaguely aware of her in watching the Doors documentary "When You're Strange: A Film About the Doors," I was positively hooked. Anyone who had the apparent tastes in women Jim Morrison had was worth my time, or so I thought. Don't get me wrong, I was there in the first place because of the music, and always was more of an avid musical digester than a card-carrying member of the Morrison cult-of-personality(you can also say the same regarding my like of admittedly over-wrought bands like the Beatles and Pink Floyd). Discovering this feminine aspect of the Doors gave my teen-aged mind the liberty to go all into the motions of Doors super-fandom, resulting in some psychological after affects from which I am still recovering. But more than any of that, she made me want to believe that Morrison had faked his own demise(as some dubiously like to think) so that there would be a chance that she hadn't actually died from a herion overdose less than three years later, as has been documented.


    Reading Stephen Davis' "Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend" was a roller-coaster both fun in terms of taking me on the fuller trip of which the documentary could only give me a basic taste and deadeningly disappointing in terms of the fact that all documented evidence pointed not only to Morrison's demise in Paris, France, on July 3, 1971, but also to Pam's subsequent demise in LA on April 25, 1974. It also divulged the legal recourses the surviving band members(Who tried putting on the charade of continuing the band for two years after the death of their leader) took against her when she, broke and destitute, tried to withdraw money from her late partner's collected net worth. The book said that some of the people in those circles enjoyed making her life miserable. All the grief they put her through in the final years made me so angry that I wanted to jump through the pages and knock the crap out of those guys. Beyond that, after having digested all of this, I just want to vomit every time I read where the Doors' late keyboardist Ray Manzarek hagiographically refers to Jim & Pam as the "Golden Boy" and the "Golden Girl." And yet you abetted his worst tendencies and stood by as other insidious people ran her roughshod! I remember the first word that came to mind when I read all of this was "deplorable," many years before that once meaningful word got polluted.


    All of this made me want to somehow do like Marty McFly and Doc Brown in the "Back to the Future" film franchise and hop in the DeLorean time machine, set it back to somewhere in the early 1970's, and don my counter-cultural rock musician persona so I could trick her into coming along with me and, though I wouldn't have spelled it out, inevitably avoid disaster. Failing all that, I would just get myself sucked into a lethal pattern of drugs and booze, which didn't sound so bad at that time because if she was going to go down, then so was I. This was beyond impossible to achieve, but it did prove the genesis for one of my very first fiction writing ideas, a counter-cultural rock and roll guy who lived the excess, knew and loved Pam, and himself nearly paid the ultimate price numerous times for his free-wheeling ways. Before I was thinking in terms of doing fiction, though, this alternate reality was something that helped me cope with the awful realities I had faced down in reading the book. I took this character to new heights in the years gone by, and it would be the most difficult thing to sit down and focus on over the course of days and weeks. However, it would be so worth it when it is finally done.


    Almost seven years later, I got around to reading Jerry Hopkins' book "The Lizard King: The Essential Jim Morrison," which gave me another ride through the Day of the Doors and shone light on some of the weirder and more saddening aspects of their ride through the American consciousness. Complimenting this was the fact that I had grown up and grown out of the super-fandom of my youth. However, I still hold affection for Pam, and it was hard not to see her as the tragic victim of Jim Morrison's escapades. More than wanting to deck the people who gave her grief in those last years, I wanted to jump through the pages once more, this time to smack hard sense into Morrison over his latently self-centered behaviour. If I had a treasure even a small fraction of what Pam was, I would not have done the abusive and downright awful things he did. Beyond that, though, I also had to accept that she caused a lot of her own problems with her copious heroin usage, free-spending ways, and promiscuity that rivalled that of her partner's. I had closure at long last, but my heart will always be broken for her that she(and Jim, too) died ensconed in her vices and will pay for all of eternity for her big mistakes. Even without Morrison's singularly corrosive influence, these are the sorts of things a well intentioned guy and his imaginary DeLorean couldn't have undone.




    For better and for worse, the Doors have been, with the Beatles, one of the bands who has had the largest and most multi-faceted influence over my musical development in the past decade plus of my life. Every time I put on an album of theirs, I instantly recall some memory or another from my teen years and I feel the same euphoric rush I did back then. Even going into certain cities and stores that were hallmarks of those years will remind me of the songs, both Doors and non, that I listened to at that time, and it will bring back the same feelings as the music. No small part of the euphoric rush I get comes with imagining myself as my fictitious rocker alter ego and looking at Pam in person, in the flesh, but then the lightning crashes and I'm back in the real world.


    And a final note on what the music is really about: A little over a year ago, I had a crush on a nice young lady who was in both of my classes that Semester. She sent the 'sensation' through me, but not in such an overwhelming way as to drive me out of my gourd. One day, I thought I saw her car in a super-market parking lot as I was out and about doing my own thing. My pulse raced. If I weren't already going inside, I would have gone in if only to scope out the people in search of a nice young lady(Yes, I am every bit as crazy as you are thinking). As I walked through the store, riddled with anxiety as I was, I started singing the lyrics to the Doors song "Riders on the Storm" to calm myself down. A prayer probably would have worked better, but I didn't think of it at the time. The trick none the less did work, and the lyrics perfectly relayed the sentiment of the moment. Did not see her, and ultimately nothing would come of that crush. Maybe it was all for the best. The period around this time created new memories with the music of the Doors. When nothing else suffices, music comes in and fills the void. Hollowly so, but fills it in never the less.