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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

...I take that back, Trump is okay with racists

In a news conference (of sorts) yesterday, Trump reverted back to the nonsense he blurted on Saturday, blaming "both sides" and essentially apologizing for the alt-right (i.e. racists). He even compared famous traitor Robert E. Lee to non-traitor George Washington. (Sorry Confederate apologists, I don't give a damn that he was fighting for old Virginia. I don't care that "life was different" in the 1860s. He took an oath to protect the United States of American and he betrayed that oath).

I can't keep up with the lunacy coming out of the Trump White House on a daily basis. The narrative seems to constantly change.

Is Trump truly a racist or just that stupid? I don't know, maybe a bit of both. How the hell does the president of the United States excuse the behavior of white supremacists? If you're Donald Trump, that's what you do. At least Trump has made it perfectly clear where he stands....as if there was ever any doubt.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump kinda sorta condemns racists

So Trump finally came out and "condemned" the Charlottesville racists. I am not congratulating him.

He only did it due to pressure.

He did nothing all day Sunday.

It took Trump two full days to kind of, sort of "do the right thing" and, let's face it, he only did it because of the justifiably terrible fallout he experienced on Saturday and Sunday. I do not believe there is an ounce of sincerity in his words.

If ever there was a litmus test for Trump's true feelings about racism, and how he would respond to overt expressions of racist violence, it was on Saturday in Charlottesville. Trump failed miserably.

To make matters worse, after he finished with his statements yesterday, he blew up at a reporter and reverted to his usual petulant child mentality. This guy absolutely cannot make it through a single day without making an ass of himself.

That's where we are right now. I'm sure by tomorrow we will have moved on to some new inanity with this ridiculous administration.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Another dispatch from Trump's America: Fascism in Charlottesville edition

First of all, it seems that something crazy happens almost every day under the Trump regime, so it's hard to keep it straight. Whether it's James Comey getting fired as FBI director, Sean Spicer getting fired as press secretary, Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci--the most cartoonish character in an already cartoonish administration--getting fired within about a week as White House Communications director, Trump inciting North Korea to the brink of a nuclear conflict, or Sunday's tacit approval (or, at best, non-scolding) of neo-Nazis and other racists in Charlottesville, literally something nutty, frightening, and/or infuriating happens essentially every single day under this reign of terror/reign of error.

Trump had an opportunity to condemn racist violence in Charlottesville, and he failed miserably.

We have a president who will not condemn Nazis. Stew over that for awhile.

As the events in Charlottesville unfolded on Saturday morning, and it was clear that terrible violence was taking place between racists and counter protesters, our president was conspicuous in his silence. When he finally tweeted, "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!" I was foolishly willing to at least temporarily give him the benefit of a doubt. Sure, it was a bland tweet and he didn't specify the "hate(rs)" in question, but I was satisfied that he at least finally made a public statement. (Yes, that is how far the bar has been lowered with this guy).

My temporary goodwill towards 45 was shot to hell when he spoke a few hours after his tweet. In typically inarticulate comments, Trump refused to condemn the KKK, neo-Nazis, and the other right wing hate groups who went to Charlottesville specifically to incite violence. And make no mistake, those folks weren't there just to listen to speeches. Many (perhaps not all) were dressed in helmets and carrying shields and weapons.

Many of us also learned that day that some hate groups have taken to carrying a modified version of the Detroit Red Wings' "winged wheel" logo. To their credit, the Detroit Red Wings hockey club issued a strongly worded statement condemning the use of the logo. In part, the Wings organization wrote, "The Red Wings believe that Hockey is for Everyone and we celebrate the great diversity of our fan base and our nation." It is a sad state of affairs when a pro hockey team makes a stronger statement against hate than the president of the United States.

So that's where we are right now. We are still a nation divided with a president that refuses to take a stand against hate. I suppose he doesn't want to alienate a large part of his voting bloc. I hope that this country has enough reasonable people out there who are disgusted with what is happening in the United States and are equally appalled by the way Trump is handling it...but I will not be holding my breath.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A poem inspired by a neighborhood walk

I live in the land
Of cracked blacktop
Driveway basketball hoops
Car engine drive by dopplar effect
Gas powered lawnmower steady vibrating hum
Can even hear it from a distance
When not broken up by
Wind tree rustle and bird songs Reminding me of Snail Shell Harbor camp sites
And then the Sunday morning mowing resumes
Fleeting reverie is broken
My walk continues

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My follow up to my Pepper post is gone!

I had written what I thought was a fun follow-up to my Pepper post, but somehow I managed to delete the entire fucking thing. At least three hours of writing completely wasted. If at some point in the future I feel like attempting to replicate it, I will. Right now, however, I am so livid I can barely see straight. It's a goddamned miracle I didn't pitch my laptop through a window.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Ray Wylie Hubbard at Tip-Top Deluxe Bar and Grill, Grand Rapids

We drove to Grand Rapids yesterday to see Ray Wylie Hubbard perform at the Tip-Top Deluxe Bar and Grill.

I am only aware of Ray Wylie Hubbard (hereafter referred to as merely "RWH") through my old college roommate Paul, who is essentially a scholar of Texas music. (He may not like me calling him a scholar, but he is). Paul gave me RWH's memoir A Life...Well, Lived when we had our NADS Shaw Hall dorm room floor reunion back in January 2016. After the book sat in my "to be read" pile for a few months, I finally got through it last summer and enjoyed RWH's colorful tales of his rocky, wild, never dull life. I know more about RWH's life story than I knew about his music until fairly recently. I got around to listening to some of his albums that are available on Amazon Prime streaming.

When the announcement came that RWH would be performing in Grand Rapids, I knew I had to go. By all accounts, he was/is a great live performer, with a funny, engaging, self-deprecating storytelling ability--equally adept at story songs, gut bucket blues, outlaw country, and rousing rock & roll.

So Lynda and I received assurance from our older son that he could be responsible with the house and his 12-year-old kid brother, and younger son (aka kid brother) assured us he would be okay and not anxiety ridden with mom and dad 50-odd miles away in GR. We headed out in the Kia Soul, armed with our cell phones (with which I vowed to text the boys at regular intervals to check up on their well-being).

We arrived at the Tip-Top, best described as a hipster dive bar in southwest Grand Rapids, at about 7:20 PM. The doors opened at 7:00 for the 8:00 show, and the place was already jam-packed. It was so packed that we could not find a seat and stood for the entire show...all 3 1/2 hours of it. Naturally, I wore my least amenable shoes for standing, my 21-year-old Doc Martens. (Style over comfort, man!). My feet felt like raw hamburger when the show ended.

Lynda and I both decided to get drinks from the bar, both deciding on Bell's Oberon drafts. I sucked my beer down before the opening act, John Merchant (and his female singing partner Ashley Youngstrom) went on at 8 o'clock. I drank a Corona in the bottle (only $1 less than the Bell's) and was able to make that one last for about an hour. (Two beers per concert is my limit).

The Tip-Top was sold out. The tiny bar holds 57 people for a show, and I estimate the bar is maybe 1200-1500 square feet (and that might be charitable). It has a fairly nondescript exterior; an older building (age indeterminate) with a shell of steel siding, but the interior features an old tin ceiling, many vintage rock 'n' roll and blues concert posters on the walls, and an ornate wood bar.

The openers, John Merchant and special guest Ashley Youngstrom hit the postage stamp-sized corner stage promptly at 8:00. Merchant looks a bit, or at least reminded me a bit, of what Marshall Crenshaw looked like in, say, the 1990s. He's a bit thin, bald, bespectacled, with a small graying goatee. Dressed in blue jeans, black T-shirt, black vest, army dog tags around his neck. Ashley is blonde, wore a flower print dress. They performed some of Merchant's original songs, plus a Gram Parsons cover, Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos," and an energized rendition of "Gimme Shelter" with Ashley gamely taking on Merry Clayton's "rape! murder! It's just a shot away!"" backing vocals--no small task.

I felt a little bad that I didn't buy Merchant's CD that he was selling for only five dollars, but I was saving my cash for RWH's merch table.

So after the Merchant/Youngstrom set, RWH and his band (son Lucas Hubbard on electric guitar and Kyle Snider on drums) hit the stage at about 9:30.

Where do I start? For one thing, how did I not even know of RWH's existence until Paul gave me that book? How do some great, authentic, talented as all get-out musicians often remain obscure for decades? RWH's music is an amalgamation of gut bucket blues, confessional songwriting (with references to God, the Devil, Les Paul guitars, and even the MC5 making an appearance in one of his songs), raucous rock 'n' roll, and shit-kicking country. Perhaps RWH isn't more widely known simply because he can't be categorized, and the music industry thrives on placing artists into little compartments.

Simply put, RWH brings it. He performs with a warmth and connection to the audience honed by decades on the road. But it's also apparent that his son Lucas and his relatively young drummer Kyle keep him feeling energetic.

The audience at the Tip-Top was loud and enthusiastic. It was a mix of folks: youngish hip punky rockabilly cats in Reverend Horton Heat shirts all the way to grey-haired or grey-bearded and/or balding 50 and 60-somethings, even a few 30's-ish women who seemed to know all or many of the song lyrics. (I kinda thought RWH would be more "dude-oriented," but that wasn't entirely the case). RWH has an intense following, I believe they are referred to as "Snake Farmers" from one of RWH's better-known songs, "Snake Farm"). I felt slightly left out, maybe a little fraudulent, in that I was not as familiar with his music as probably 80 or 90 percent of the people at the show. (Though I'm not sure how many of those folks had read RWH's autobiography, so at least I had that one over them).

Lucas Hubbard is as interesting as his father. Maybe as meditative in his performance style as his father is exuberant and expressive. Lucas looks like he feels the music in his body and soul, often playing with his eyes closed and a Buddha-like grin on his face. Lucas is a slight young man, knit hat on his head, scruffy beard, smooth boyish face, decked out in black T-shirt and dark jeans. RWH is a wizened Texan philosopher, wild unruly grey hair, multiple necklaces, dressed completely in black like his son. Meanwhile Kyle holds the beat on his spartan drum kit.

They played a freewheeling, fire-breathing wet and finished up at about 11:30. The three musicians made their way through the adoring crowd to the back room of the Tip-Top, people asking and/or pleading for a few seconds of RWH's time as he slowly made his way to sanctuary.

I decided to leave RWH alone, What would I say, anyway? He looked spent and tired. We had to get home, anyway. I did, however, stop at the merch table on the way out and bought the Snake Farm CD. Despite sore feet, I walked excitedly back to the car, and texted the kids to let them we were on the way home.

Friday, June 2, 2017

It was 50 years ago today

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the American release of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This significant anniversary got me to thinking about my own relationship with this album.

Pepper is an album I don't listen to that much anymore, and when I recently wrote a list of my favorite Beatles albums*--a challenge issued by Bill and Brian of  The Great Albums podcast (check it out if you've never heard it, it's a good podcast), I had Pepper at number seven of the 13 Beatles studio albums. This isn't to say that Pepper is a bad album--not at all. (I mean, come on, it's the Beatles for chrissakes!) It's just far from my favorite album by the Fab Four.

However, there is a time when it was about the only Beatles album I knew. If you want to put a fine point on it, and if anyone out there really cares, Rubber Soul was the first Beatles album I remember listening to straight through. That's because my older cousin Suzy went through a heavy "Beatles phase" in about 1979. Almost every summer, I'd spend a few weeks at my aunt and uncle's house in the U.P. of Michigan, and I remember my cousin listening to Rubber Soul every night before going to bed. And the reason I remember this is because Suzy had the largest bedroom in the house with twin beds, so I slept in the same room and was also lulled to sleep by Rubber Soul every night for two weeks in the summer of '79 (ish).

Sorry for that digression. Back to Pepper. As just about everyone (over the age of 40) knows, John Lennon was murdered in December 1980. I have often indicated that whenever a famous musician dies, I inevitably take the deep dive into that individual's back catalog (it just happened last week with Chris Cornell). I'd say this tendency began in December 1980. With the outpouring of grief over the loss of Lennon, I became interested in the Beatles. I had no Beatles records of my own, but my parents had two: the VeeJay single of "Do You Want to Know a Secret" b/w "Thank You Girl" (to this day, I have no idea why they owned that particular single. I need to ask them) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

My parents were fairly young when they had me in March 1968 (mom was 22, dad was 21), so they came of age in the rock 'n' roll milieu of the 1960s. However, neither one were particularly big Beatles fans, My dad told me that, as a kid from the largely blue collar "downriver" area of the Detroit suburbs, he was more into the gritty sound of the Animals and the Rolling Stones (as well as a soft spot for the squeaky clean folk of the Kingston Trio and Chad Mitchell Trio). My mom was from Rosedale Park in Detroit, and had grown up listening to a fair amount of classical, jazz, the Motown sound, Johnny Mathis, and the Beach Boys. She was 19 when the Beatles invaded America in 1964 and she viewed them somewhat disdainfully as "teen fluff." This all changed in early 1967 when the Beatles came out of their "post-touring days hibernation" as finally looking like grown-ass men with facial hair (!) and a mature sound exemplified by "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever." My mom decided that she really wanted the new Beatles album as soon as it was released, and my dad obliged by presenting Pepper to her as a 22nd birthday present in June 1967.

My mom's copy of Sgt. Pepper, now in my possession.

It was this very copy of Pepper that I would obsessively listen to 13 years later. In those early days I have to admit I confused the voices of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. For some reason, I thought that McCartney sang "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and Lennon was the voice of such songs as "When I'm 64" and "Lovely Rita." I don't know when I sorted that out, but I don't think it took too long. Then there was the music itself, unlike any music being produced in 1980/1981 to my ears. Pepper was a little world unto itself, from the orchestra warming up--only to be interrupted and superseded by electric guitars--and then onto the idiosyncratic, peculiarly and exotically psychedelically-tinged Victorian/Edwardian England of "Billy Shears" (Ringo Starr) singing "With a Little Help From My Friends," the Lewis Carroll-esque "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "When I'm 64," "She's Leaving Home," "Lovely Rita,"and "Good Morning Good Morning." The album closer "A Day In the Life" haunted me then and still--to a lesser extent--haunts me today. Of course, could I have intellectualized all of this at age 12 or 13. Probably not. I just knew that Pepper was a strange and magical record.

I can remember nights when my parents would go out and leave me along with my younger brother. This meant that I had free reign of their circa 1960 Motorola console stereo, and was free to listen to records. I'd put Pepper on and pour over the equally colorful and exotic album cover. Many of the faces I couldn't identify but would learn their identities in the following years. The lyrics are on the back cover, superimposed over a photo of John, George, and Ringo facing forward with Paul's back to the camera (as if Paul is about to conduct the band). "Late of Pablo Fanques' fair," "Henry the Horse dances the waltz," "Meeting a man from the motor trade," "He blew his mind out in a car." All sorts of strange word puzzles for this kid--yours truly--to work out in his head.

As I mentioned earlier, Pepper doesn't have the same resonance for me as it did 37 years ago. In my early college years, I took the deep dive into the Beatles' catalog and discovered that Pepper was not my favorite of their albums. Perhaps it is the most culturally significant of their records, but it comes off today as a bit more style than substance. (Having said that, "A Day in the Life" is an absolute masterpiece and is powerful now as it was in 1967). Rubber Soul, Revolver, "The White Album," and Abbey Road are greater artistic achievements. But Pepper is still an enjoyable album to revisit from time to time, and I wish it a fond 50th birthday.

*Here's the list I compiled on December 15, 2016. Ranking of the Beatles' 13 British studio albums.

1. Revolver
2. "The White Album"
3. Rubber Soul
4. Abbey Road
5. Magical Mystery Tour
6. A Hard Day's Night
7. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
8. Help!
9. Beatles for Sale
10, Please Please Me
11. With the Beatles
12. Let It Be
13. Yellow Submarine