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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 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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Deadly Impervious

    Looking at the landscape of society today leaves many a reason for concern. In the never-ending spin cycle that is the news of the day, crazy in all corners is the new premium. The voices of moderation and reason are being pushed out to the fringes, endlessly told their views don't apply any more. Perhaps if all these voices came together to form one cohesive, humanitarian unit, we could see a resurgence of these reasonable forces. Unfortunately, reason has no core philosophy beyond that of reason and morality itself. As such, we fracture and fall apart, leaving the operators and the nutjobs to do all the noteworthy talking. Absorbing all of this is a bewildered, oft-clueless public trying to find their way towards what they see as the right solution to what they know instinctively is wrong in the country, and the flourishing of bad ideas continues unabated. It seems to me we are afflicted as a culture with a certain deadly imperviousness in regards to all that which is of true importance.

    Some back-stories, to start with. It was with some satisfaction that I awoke this morning to the news of the Rick Saccone fellow losing his race up in Pennsylvania. He's the noxious little guy who blew that Congressional Special Election a couple of months back to a now-'super star' of the opposition party named Conor Lamb. Mr. Saccone is pretty much your typical ruling party good ol' boy who wants to rain God's judgement down upon those he deems lesser people. Most infamously, in the lead-up to that race, he deployed the biggest gun of all, getting President Trump to host a campaign rally for his flagging campaign. My clearest memory of this involved two old guys embracing at a Wal Mart, having not seen each other in some weeks if I recall correctly, and all they could do was gush over the Trump rally. "Tells it like it is," they said, before spinning the imaginary ball of yarn about mainstream media coverage. Did you watch these news outlets? How do you know? Of course, for myriad reasons, I only choose to observe these things from a distance.

    This gets into what has always been one of my pet-most peeves, that of lying and, in general, fictionalizing. I have said for years, never on here until now, that no lie or otherwise fiction can ever rival the badness of the truth itself. The mind that creates such fictions can be so given to unpredictability that it can be hard to keep up with the story-line from one day to the next. People will live the lie, imagining themselves to be this person who they are nothing at all like. This mentality results in pyramid-like story-schemes that collapse like a large house of cards, but the truth has no story-line. Rather, it just is. No fiction can be worse than non-fiction, and the imagined never approaches the reality. Why lie ten-fold when the truth will devastate hundred-fold? Politics, and public life in general, is all too welcoming a place for men who are cut from a wholly self-serving cloth, and will do and say anything for the amassment of power and resources. To that end, it can be said, as I once did in one of my classic articles, that the lies and broad-sweeping assumptions that come out of public life can lead us down the road to war and death in the most extreme cases.

    People like to distort to their selfish ends the truth, often spinning balls of yarn so big that all rationale and reality are lost in the process. It has become something of a professional game, if you haven't noticed. Media and entertainment figures(cinematic, political, and sports figures alike) like to dish out the puffery in a one-upsmanship-like manner, raving about their imagined greatness and boorishly diminishing everybody else. Pervasive, it is. As such, I watch no network or cable news, opting instead to mentally aggregate important stories from various online news-feeds. The only television I watch is Weather Nation and on occasion the local Fox affiliate, who usually covers things more responsibly than their national counter-part. It is not that the media is biased towards the political left so much as they are biased towards ratings and their subsequent profits. From this point, we get the tabloidization of news, where every story is a 'SCANDAL,' a 'SHOCKER,' an 'OUTRAGE!' Stop it! At some point, people will tune it all out, tired of having to deal with severe cases of media whiplash. When will it end? Perhaps when enough people in the target demographics realize what is truly important and cut out this crap that is deadly impervious to reality.

    Admittedly, it is re-assuring to see persons like Saccone and West Virginia Coal Baron Don Blankenship lose their races. These developments make me believe for a brief, shining moment that sanity still prevails when the truth has the opportunity to get itself out into the open. However, in the face of all this, it is still stunning that over half of the members of the current ruling party in America today have, by varied extensions, pledged their fealty to some of the not so truthful forces at play, and I am not just talking Trump(he is but only a symptom). Beyond our current leader, their has always been a desire to spread lies in an effort to discredit any source that gets in the way of their agenda, and to what end should all this come? You just know that if Blankenship had been nominated, the ruling party would have engaged in the same wagon circling and slavish quasi-cult worship that took place when they nominated Alabama mall creep Roy Moore. A sure-fire recipe for disaster. When you lose power, all your accomplishments go down the drain in favour of forces effortlessly more corrosive than even you have tried to be. I tell you, one does not need to be a slave to agree with someone or something. Moreover, you don't need to incline your ear to the crazy side in order to believe what you do. A good, solid case made, whether based in empirical facts or (as with me)personal experiences will do just fine.

    The only reason they might get off scot free at the ballot box is the fact that their 'Resistance' is even more deadly impervious than they are, and that is a huge problem. Just looking here in Georgia, the Governor's race could be thrown away if the opposition party nominates the more 'Resistance'-flavoured candidate, because the exurban voters who decide Georgia elections don't go for this brand of lies, rat poison, and sexual warfare. Instead of focusing on local issues from the center-left perspective, they want to rile up the small-time farmers over the pressing issues of Trump & Putin, Stormy Daniels, gun confiscation, jailing those 'intolerant' bakers of cake, and the policing of 'insensitive' pronouns. That will get these voters riled up, but not in the way they hope. There are real problems facing our state in the next few years, and yet one guy wants to gloat about the size of his 'deportation bus' while another one wants to emphasize Hillary Clinton/Elizabeth Warren-style identity politics. Neither of these are winning strategies, and will only succeed in blowing golden opportunities at only the most unfortunate of moments.

    One wants to imagine a positive future for the country, far-fetched and infeasible though it might otherwise seem. As much as the country has been through of late, the American Spirit as envisioned by the Founding Fathers still lives on in the average citizen living out their day-to-day lives. If only the so-called 'gate-keepers' would give them a chance to think for themselves! People, more than dimly aware of a certain unease in the air, seek out meaning in life and solutions to everyday problems, and are getting it from the most insidious sources. Sources who are deadly impervious to the true realities of the world and are only seeking out of their own acclaim and glory. The ignorance of the average person who falls into the traps of life can be forgiven, but the war that is coming on the Judgement Day for these gate-keepers who set the traps will be epic in its scale.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Great Ed McMahon/Egg McMuffin Conspiracy

    As I well know, I am not the only one who has wondered about one of the oddest coincidences in modern life: That of the conspicuous similarities between former "Tonight Show" side-kick Ed McMahon's name and that of the McDonald's Egg McMuffin. We all know that people can be influenced by pop culture, consciously or not, and McMahon was a hot commodity around the time of the McMuffin roll-out. Next to no one seems to have spoken on this matter, so I'll volunteer myself, do the heavy lifting, and establish a connection that no one seems to have yet made. For a starter, some back-history...

    1972. Richard Nixon was President, Vietnam was raging, people still cared what Ringo was up to, and the "Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" was ruling the week-nights ratings roost. The show that propelled its namesake, side-kick Ed McMahon, and band-leader Doc Severinsen into the public mainstream could easily be said to be permeating the culture in other ways. One of the most infamous manners in which it would commandeer its influence is with Ed McMahon's 80's-era association with Publisher's Clearing House. However, as one can guess, there were myriad more ways in which Carson's "Tonight Show" influenced the culture.

    That same year, McDonald's, then as now America's largest fast food chain, rolled out the Egg McMuffin sandwich. Devised by Herb Peterson and his assistant Donald Greadel, the sandwich became(with the McGriddle) the most recognised item in the McDonald's breakfast menu, and ultimately second banana to the Big Mac as the most recognised item on their greater menu. But how did they come to the name? Some say that the McDonald's name had more to do with it than anything else, but I disagree. Burger King didn't name their classic menu items after their own name('Big King' and 'Bacon King' are not classics), and neither did Wendy's(that I know of). Some say the muffin had something to do with it, and maybe it did, but the sum of all the parts? Egg? McDonalds? Muffin? The popularity of the "Tonight Show" and subsequent visibility of Ed McMahon? This is more than a coincidence, I tell you!

    Many generations of proud geeks and nerds have, through no fault of their own, had to wonder to themselves if this all was just a strange coincidence, or perhaps something bigger. You can't fault people for keeping to themselves, as society has a way of stigmatizing people who are different(Just look at our ongoing discussion on mental illness). However, it would seem I am not the only person who has talked publicly about this, as 'Jedi Master' John Wesley Downey made his own thoughts known after the death of McMuffin derivator Herb Peterson at age 89 in 2008. Sanity at last! However, one lonely voice in a world of naysayers does not a case prove. Two lonely voices, and one with a blog of his own? Perhaps.

    Pop culture is pervasive in all ways. To chronicle the vast influences it has had on the things most of us take for granted would fill up hundreds of encyclopedic volumes(Do those even exist anymore?). However, some influences are more obvious than others. When will people put down the Blackberry, open up a book, and actually learn something, instead of judging those who dare to be different? Whatever. Besides, it's not like our society, with its bugaboos and whatnot, will get in the way of our learning the real reason behind the Kennedy assassinations, Vietnam, Iran Contra, Russian meddling, and...oh wait...

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Remembering Tom Petty(1950-2017)

    Rock and roll legend Tom Petty, renown for his eponymous band and for being a part of super-group the Travelling Wilburys, died Monday evening after going into full cardiac arrest at his Malibu, CA, home. Undoubtedly the hardest-hitting death in all of 2017, and easily rivalling the most famous of those from years past. Petty crafted some of the most defining songs of the 70's, 80's, and 90's, and was in and of himself a singular force in rock and roll music a la Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and Prince. To consider what all we have lost as far as music in the past 2 years is incredible. Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon, Bowie, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Prince, Leon Russell, Gregg Allman, Walter Becker of Steely Dan, and now Tom Petty are all gone. It's the curse of liking older(but quality) music, losing all your favourites.

    Some argue that he and his bands weren't instrumentally proficient and versatile in the same was as, say, Blue Cheer, Moby Grape, Pacific Gas & Electric, Quicksilver, or the Soft Machine. Some even argue that, lacking a 'singing voice,' he's just doing a fobbed off rendition of Bob Dylan. On the first point, I say that whatever talents they did(and they did) or did not have were trumped by the adept, incisive song-writing team of Tom Petty & Mike Campbell. To the second point, I must say this: Bob who? In much the same way as the Eagles, though, Tom Petty's music resonated with me more because of the deeper cuts than the hits. That's not a dig at the wonderful hit songs he did, I'm just saying the songs ignored by radio play-listers were of better quality. Here's a taster of what he was really capable of doing, culled mainly from his late-80's and 1990's releases.

    "Love is a Long Road," from the 1989 "Full Moon Fever" album, is anthemically descriptive not just of two young people passionately in love, but also the 'long road' of being in love(even if by one's self)--As I am apt to call it, the 'rush of the crush.' Lyrics and music both portray the image of a love cratering on a day-to-day basis. When it all gets too much, one has to jump off the 'love train' "To try and save my soul." Real talk from the realest of the rockers.

    "To Find a Friend," from the 1994 "Wildflowers" album, is about as simple and laid back as one can find in Petty's catalogue. At least, the music is laid back(as opposed to its usual rambunctious self). But wait, those lyrics ain't laid back. These are the after-effects of divorce and the process of self-reinvention at play. His songs from this period tend to cover similar ground('self-reinvention' was covered, albeit not as succinctly, in "All the Wrong Reasons" from 1991's "Into the Great Wide Open" album), for a variety of reasons. Petty, by now, is going through the divorce and seeking out his true friends. The song features drums from one of those friends, former Beatle Ringo Starr.

    "Walls(Circus)," from the un-heralded 1996 "She's the One" soundtrack, has Petty making universal statements. Granted, he arguably did it better in songs like "I Won't Back Down" and "Learning to Fly." However, this one, with our current President's talk of 'big walls, beautiful walls,' is especially timely. "I can't hold out forever. Even walls fall down." I'm sure some dismiss this song as flighty bubble-gum, but the simplicity of the lyrics belie the heady, weighty real-life concepts being expounded upon. Petty was, in 1996, breaking down his own decades-old walls. Definitely one of the more fitting, prescient songs he did.

    "A Self Made Man" expounds upon the bitter after-effects of love gone haywire. Discovered this one by laughing chance when I was looking at the back of my then-copy of the "Let Me Up(I've Had Enough)" LP and thought the song title looked interesting enough. I was blown away when I dropped the needle, more than any other time past or future that I've done the LP rounds(the song in the linked video is the product of that dropping of the needle). Saw the movie "Baby Driver" in cinemas a couple of months ago, and I thought of this song when Kevin Spacey's character proclaimed "I was in love once," not long before he got into a life-ending shoot-out. "He's a self made man, he knows how to lose."

    "Too Good to Be True" is Tom Petty at his most foreboding. He doesn't say it, and he doesn't have to. This girl has...lived the life, shall we say. The wayward life of a young girl. This I have seen from several vantage points. Saw from afar a Church girl on whom I had a crush on-again and off-again over the course of five years gradually lose, after she went to College, whatever semblance of the wide-eyed innocence that drew me to her in the first place. Nowadays, I couldn't possibly care less. "You don't know what it means to be free." How true. Most people never get that opportunity, or outright waste it entirely.

    "It's Good to Be King," a lesser hit from the "Wildflowers" album, is one I cottoned to just recently. In fact, the whole "Wildflowers" album got a re-listen from me(initially, I wasn't much of a fan beyond the hits and key deeper songs), and I realised why Petty himself liked it so much. Raw honesty, which reached a new level on this album. Recently put this song to a burned disc, and I can be occasionally heard singing to myself the lyric "Can I help it if I still dream time to time?" 'Everybody wants to rule the world,' and 'you may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.' A universal sentiment borne of life's whole cloth. Also, adapted to today's circumstances, very prescient. It's like Tom Petty was keyed into the American spirit in a way that would make people like Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen look like total shysters by comparison.

    "Room at the Top," from his highly personal 1999 "Echo" album(having been recorded in the midst of the aftermath of his aforementioned divorce and a late-in-life heroin addiction), is the best song he ever did in my estimation. My love of the song stems from the linked video I did for the song, the idea for which sprouted at one of the lowest periods in my life. Was driving down the road the day after one of my magic crushes cratered(sensing a pattern?), more spectacularly than usual. Had the "Echo" album in my CD player, and this song was playing. I thought to myself "Room at the top of the world...Windows on the World...Hey, that's a good idea! Mark that one down somewhere."  The song became one of my favourites ever as a result of that video, which has to be the best one I ever did. "I've got a room at the top of the world tonight, and I ain't coming down" is my own way of looking at life and where I am now.

    I'll end this song set with another "Echo" album track: "Lonesome Sundown," a mournful lamenting of past relationships and the disintegration thereof. Petty wrote a great many of these, almost all of them good, though few could match the mournful energy of this song. I don't know anything about relationships myself, but I do know about crushes that fall apart. Some are far more painful than others, especially when there's another guy in the mix. "Forgiveness is the key," and so few people ever realize the truth of the sentiment. I'd imagine lots of 'lonesome sundowns' gradually give way to even more 'tequila sunrises.'

    Was in Athens, GA, earlier Monday afternoon sifting through several LP Bins, and came across brand new, shrink-wrapped Tom Petty LP's. Not just re-issued studio albums, but also live performances. Gave me a curious chuckle to see that Petty and his band did a live cover of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" Since I am a cheapskate, I didn't give them a serious thought(around $20 a pop). No doubt people are buying them up now. This was all before I got the horrible news, standing in the music section at the Athens Barnes & Noble. Overlooked a great many selections as I bee-lined for the Petty slot to finally get his band's debut release(it's a better album than even I had ever imagined). With the Eagles and the Moody Blues, they were a band I had wanted to see live in concert. However, on his last two swings through Atlanta(with Mudcrutch and the Heartbreakers, respectively), I found ticket prices to be on the high side for me(north of $100 per seat). Again, my cheaper side won out.

    The first memories I ever remember of Petty's music involved my tween-year love and hate relationship with the song "Free Fallin'." In one of the more love-fuelled periods, the band's 'Greatest Hits' compilation became my first ever music CD(when love transitioned back to hate, I kicked myself HARD for passing up Matchbox 20 and Clay Aiken). Later, towards my teen years, I added "I Won't Back Down" to the ranks of songs for which I possessed said 'love/hate relationship.' As my music tastes fell more solidly into place, Tom Petty slowly became a favourite, propelled by the songs "Running Down a Dream" and "Learning to Fly." In no time, those stragglers came on out the other side, and not a moment too soon. When my big crush fell through in 2012, it was "Free Fallin'" that resonated the most, as it summed up everything. As time went on and circumstances unfolded, I would come to find "A Woman in Love(It's Not Me)" appropriate.

    Tom Petty was a giant of music in America and around the world. His loss is absolutely staggering. Music was in a downward-spiralling state the past 15 or so years, and Petty was the only one still doing good albums. That's gone now. What that means for music is at present unclear, but one can guess the end result won't be a good one. More personally, this is not the article I ever thought I'd have to do right now.

RIP Tom Petty