Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Here It Is: The Official Theme Song of Summer

So, apparently, it’s May 31st. Memorial Day is past and the kids are almost out of school. Which is, like, impossible, because it was just Labor Day. I swear it was.

But, anyway, that leads me to this question: Is there any better song for the summer than “Backstreets,” the original version was on Born To Run (1975):

One soft infested summer me and Terry became friends

Trying in vain to breathe the fire we was born in

Catching rides to the outskirts, tying fate between our teeth

Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house, getting wasted in the heat …

(Yeah, because anybody can write a song like that, right? Damn.)

As an aside: I’ve always loved this song, but when Danny Federici, the E Street Band’s organ player, died from melanoma in April 2008, “Backstreets” was the song that immediately came to mind. Those opening bars with Roy Bittan on the piano and Danny on the organ … man, that just might be the best few minutes of music that ever came out of the 1970s.

Okay, but here’s the thing. It’s not a rhetorical question: Is there a better song for summer than “Backstreets”? If there is, I’m unaware of it, but I’m curious to know what you think.

UPDATE: I should have added this, as an Honorable Mention:

Garland Jeffreys, “Wild in the Streets,” from Ghost Writer (1977).

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 30, 2011

On the Air Again with Tim Corrimal and Friends – Episode 169

Today’s episode of The Tim Corrimal Show is a very special Memorial Day edition: Tim and I were joined again by Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, the parents of U.S. Army Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, an openly gay soldier who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Feb. 27, 2011. If you are not familiar with the Wilfahrts and their son Andrew, here’s a video produced by the Courage Campaign about Cpl. Wilfahrt’s death:

On today’s show, the Wilfahrts discuss their ongoing efforts to secure equal rights for gays and lesbians in Minnesota, including Jeff’s recent testimony before committees of the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives in opposition to a ballot initiative to amend the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The Wilfahrts’ tireless work for the cause of justice even attracted the attention of Rachel Maddow, who interviewed them last week:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Unfortunately, despite the Wilfahrts’ valiant efforts the Minnesota legislature ultimately approved the measure:

The Minnesota House of Representatives … voted 70-62 to approve a ballot initiate aimed at amending the Minnesota constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Approval by the House was the final step required to put the propped constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot. The state Senate approved the bill on May 11.

Minnesota state law already prohibits same-sex unions, but backers of the amendment are hoping votes will approve the amendment to prevent the law from being overturned by judges or future Legislatures.

The ballot question would read, “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?”

Nonetheless, in the long term the efforts of the Wilfahrts and like-minded people all over the country will undoubtedly prevail.

I cannot express my gratitude to Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt enough. They are heroes by any definition.

This being Memorial Day, I want to mention another issue that we didn’t have time to get into on today’s show. These days, military deaths are not limited to those caused by enemy fire and improvised explosive devices. The longer the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw out, the greater the mental toll is on our soldiers and marines. And sometimes that leads to horrible consequences. In the words of Gregg Keesling, who lost his son, Army Spc. Chancellor Keesling, in Iraq in 2009:

(CNN) -- Two years ago, my son, Army Spc. Chancellor Keesling, died by suicide in Iraq. He was 25 and on his second deployment.

Shortly after his death, my wife, Jannett, and I learned of a long-standing policy in which presidential letters of condolence are withheld from families of American service members who die by suicide.

We wrote to President Barack Obama on August 3, 2009, asking him to reverse this policy, and since then we have tried to keep up a steady drumbeat for change. There has been a fair amount of media attention, including from CNN, and recently U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, co-chair of the Senate Military Family Caucus, and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues sent a letter to the president on behalf of this issue, echoing a bipartisan request from House members.

We learned in late 2009 that the White House would be reviewing the policy, when then-White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told then-CNN reporter Elaine Quijano that the White House had inherited this policy and was reviewing it. Yet as of this writing, we and the hundreds of other families whose children have died by suicide while at war wait for a result.

It is my belief that many in the military consider suicide a dishonorable way to die. That feeling goes through the ranks and makes talking about mental health issues difficult for many soldiers, like it was for my son. While there are committed military personnel trying to address this issue, it seems that there is difficulty of the message reaching down through the ranks.

I believe the president's refusal to acknowledge a family like ours plays a role in perpetuating the idea that suicide is not honorable and that it is not a serious issue.

I think by changing the policy, President Obama would send a powerful message that we cannot tolerate what is happening to our troops.

Although I would quibble with Mr. Keesling’s assertion that Pres. Obama has “refused” to acknowledge the suffering of suicide victims and their families given that the policy is, in fact, under review, I certainly agree with the sentiment: Military suicides need to be treated with the same respect accorded any military death, at least where the suicide is directly related to the victim’s military service. In any event, please read the entire piece on CNN.com by Mr. Keesling. This is a story that needs to be told.

And as I mentioned in an earlier post, Paul Rieckhoff and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have done yeoman work highlighting the mental health issues of veterans, including the unacceptably high rate of suicide among them. On this Memorial Day, please support the work of IAVA and all dedicated veterans organizations, and please remember all of those we’ve lost to war – including those who’ve committed suicide.

And above all, please support the work of Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt to bring the full rights of citizenship to all Americans.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Flaming Arrows, Streaking and Memorial Day: A Hard Lesson in Growing Up

In one sense, it was an epic teenage prank. The kind of thing you’d still be talking about thirty-some years later. In another sense, it epitomized – you’ll pardon the expression – the monumental dickishness of my generation, the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate we-don’t-give-a-crap generation that came of age in the 1970s.

Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. Try to picture this: The football stadium at Oak Park and River Forest High School runs from east to west on the north side of Lake Street between East Avenue and Linden Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois, which borders the city of Chicago immediately to the west. The football field itself has been resurfaced in the meantime, but when I was in high school it was cheap artificial turf encircled by a four-lane quarter-mile track. Or at least I think it was a quarter mile track; it’s been a long time since I was in high school. Anyway, you entered the stadium’s grandstands from Lake Street, along the south edge of the football field and track; on the opposite side of the field there were bleachers and the visiting team’s bench. In the northeast corner of the filed, just outside the oval track, there was a small concession stand.

So, anyway, it was late May 1979 and I was a junior at Oak Park-River Forest. My sister Joan was a senior. We were coming up on the annual Memorial Day assembly where the students were trotted out to the football stadium to sit in the grandstands to watch an ancient color guard slow-march the American flag and the flags of each of the service branches out onto the field while someone from the marching band played “Taps”; followed by patriotic speeches and an overly emotive reading of “In Flanders Fields”; and then we’d trundle back into the school to continue marking time until the school year ended.

But in 1979, one of Joan’s classmates – in the interest of discretion, we’ll call him Jeff P. – came up with what must’ve seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. And he almost pulled it off.

It went like this, and I swear to god I’m not making any of this up. On the morning of the annual Memorial Day assembly, one of Jeff’s friends was hiding behind a parked car across Linden Avenue to the west of the stadium, armed with a bow and arrow. He – the friend, I presume – had attached maybe three or four firecrackers to the tip-end of the arrow. Shortly after the student body (minus Jeff P. and his friend with the bow and arrow) were seated in the grandstands waiting for the color-bearing octogenarians and so forth, Jeff’s friend lit the fuses of the firecrackers and shot the arrow into the northwest corner of the football field, at which point the firecrackers promptly went off, distracting everyone’s attention to that corner of the field. And again, I am not making this up.

Anyway, at the moment the firecrackers went off in the northwest corner of the field, Jeff P. burst out of the concession stand at the northeast corner of the field, buck-freaking-naked, except for a ski mask and a pair of sneakers, and streaked from east to west down the track at the northern edge of the field, leaping a four-to-five foot wrought iron fence at the west end of the stadium, dashing across Linden Avenue, and disappearing between houses on the opposite side of the street. The student body went positively mad with cheering and laughter. Teachers and administrators fumed. An assistant football coach took off after Jeff P., also leaping the fence and disappearing across the street. The ancient men of the color guard were motionless, stunned, not quite sure if they could believe their own eyes. Eventually, the program went on with the presentation of colors, the speeches, the reading of “In Flanders Fields,” but none of that really mattered.

What mattered was Jeff P.’s pale white rear-end stealing down the track, telling everyone involved exactly what we thought of their old fashioned flag-waving, completely out-of-touch Memorial Day nonsense.

By way of epilogue, I should point out that Jeff P. got caught immediately afterward. The reason being, he lost one of his gym shoes vaulting the fence making his getaway … and his name was written inside it. Yeah, he chose to wear gym shoes with his name written inside of them when he pulled off what seemed to be the most epic prank in his or any of our high school careers. As a punishment, he was not allowed to go to prom or to attend graduation; and, to add insult to injury, he made what turned out to be a huge mistake – a mistake which was almost as epic as the prank itself: He thought he could redress the wrongs visited upon him by writing to legendary Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko, who did indeed write a column about the incident the following week. But, as you can imagine, Royko, a former Air Force man, was (ahem) less than sympathetic to Jeff’s plight. Heh.

But here’s the thing. Being an idiotic seventeen year old, I managed to convince myself that this dickish prank was, in fact, some sort of grandiose political statement; that it wasn’t just the act of an upper middle-class suburban jerk but was instead a way of raising our collective middle fingers at the military-industrial complex, or some such nonsense. Because nuance and complexity tend to evade seventeen year olds who think they’re smarter than everybody else (or, at least, they evaded me at that age), I couldn’t appreciate Memorial Day for what it was. I couldn’t appreciate that showing respect for men and women who died in uniform was something altogether different from supporting war itself; that you could have grave reservations about, say, Vietnam, but still feel immense sadness, and even appreciation, for the men and women who died in Vietnam, or Korea, or anywhere else politicians sent them to die.

It’s odd. As I’ve often remarked – and remarked with intense pride – my father was a World War II combat veteran. So you’d think even at seventeen I’d’ve had some sense of respect for military dead. But my father was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War, which was still an open wound in 1979; and, more than that, my dad, like most people who actually saw action during wartime, was never one to romanticize it. In fact, he hated war like only a combat veteran can hate war. And I guess at age seventeen I couldn’t distinguish between war and the people who were forced to fight wars; so being opposed to one meant you had to be opposed to the other.

I know my dad never felt that way, but I was stupid and I thought I knew everything.

Over the years I’ve come to look at that Memorial Day assembly in 1979 as one of the low points in my life. Not that I personally had anything to do with the prank itself, but it still bothers me that I thought it was great at the time. I often wish I could go back to and talk to my seventeen year old self. If I could, I think I’d say something like this: Don’t ever blame the people who serve for bad decisions made by politicians, or for unthinking people who cheer on war like it’s football. As long as we need a military, and I have little doubt we do need a military, we need people who are willing to sign up and take that oath – the one to protect and defend the Constitution – and those people are and always will be our collective responsibility.

Taking the time to honor people who’ve died in wars, even (or perhaps especially) wars started by arrogant, foolish politicians for crass reasons, is the very least we can do for them.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Poem for the Holiday

Memorial Day 1970

Cottonwood seed blows down the alley

Behind the Catholic school down the street

And collects in snow drifts at the base of

Utility poles and along the edges of garage doors.

A block over by the pool the smell of chlorine mixes

With carbon and lighter fluid and blue plumes

Of smoke rise and disperse and burn your eyes

When the wind shifts in your direction.

Walking through the neighborhood here and there

You see blue star flags in the windows

Of brick bungalows and apartment buildings

And faded peeling clapboard frame houses.

Back at our house my dad flies the flag

At half staff like he does every year, knowing

A thing or two about what it means for young men

To go overseas and not to come back.

Today he’s thinking about the coast of France

And the black water that swallowed

Eight hundred men from the S.S. Leopoldville

On Christmas Eve in 1944, but he never says.

There’s an ambivalence in our house today

That even an eight year old can sense –

To separate the dead from the cause,

To feel empathy even if you’ve been betrayed.

But across the street from the Catholic school

A woman of indeterminate age to an eight year old

Gingerly replaces a blue star flag with a gold star flag,

And lays the blue star flag somewhere out of view.

There isn’t, it seems to me, any ambivalence

There, not at that precise moment, anyway,

Lost in crushing sadness, moving without awareness

Of anything but a dull pain in her chest.

And the cottonwood seed collects at my stopped feet

And the noise from the pool rises and falls

And the woman of indeterminate age turns and

Fades into the black rectangle of the window, and she’s gone.

[I wrote this piece about a year ago, before I started this blog. I repost it here in honor of the holiday, with some minor modifications. By way of explanation, the S.S. Leopoldville, mentioned in the fifth stanza, was a Belgian passenger ship that was impressed into military service during World War II, used primarily as a troop transport between England and France. On December 24, 1944, the Leopoldville and a companion ship, the HMS Cheshire, crossed the English channel with the 260th and 262nd regiments of the U.S. Army’s 66th Infantry Division – my father’s division. A few miles off Cherbourg, France, the Leopoldville was hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat and eventually sank, killing nearly 800 American soldiers. My father, Pfc. Paul J. von Ebers, was on the Cheshire that night. He and his fellow soldiers on the Cheshire spent Christmas Day 1944 pulling the bodies of their comrades out of the icy waters of the English Channel. This was their first experience with war. For further reference, Jacquin Sanders’ A Night Before Christmas (Buccaneer Books 1963) tells the story of the Leopoldville disaster. Picture: The Leopldville Memorial in Titusville, Florida.]

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Your Friday Clash Song: Johnny Comes Marching Home

“English Civil War,” recorded live at the Lyceum in London in January 1979, originally on Give ’Em Enough Rope (1978). According to The Clash Wiki, the band first played this song live at the Carnival Against The Nazis Festival in April 1978. So, that’s pretty cool. You can hear the original studio version here.

Although “English Civil War” is about the rise of violent neo-Nazi groups in the UK, I chose the song for a different reason: It’s an updated version of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” which seems fitting with Memorial Day coming up. From Wikipedia:

The Irish antiwar song Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” share the same melodic material. Based on internal textual references, “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” apparently dates from the early 1820’s, while “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” was first published in 1863. It was sung by both sides of the Civil War. It was used as a motivation song that told the soldiers what happens when the war is over.

The lyrics to “Johnny Comes Marching Home,” written by Irish-American bandleader Patrick Gilmore and published under the pseudonym ‘Louis Lambert’, effectively reverse those of “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye”, in which Johnny returns home blind and crippled, to the woman and children he abandoned in order to go to Sri Lanka to serve in the British Army for the East India Company.

The Johnny so longed for in the song is Patrick Gilmore’s future brother in-law a Union Light Artillery Captain named John O’Rourke. The song was written by Patrick for his sister Annie Gilmore as she longed for the safe return of her fiancé from the Civil War. (“The House that O’Rourke Built” Patti Jo Peterson The Plattsmouth Journal August 30, 2007 page 5, and “The O’Rourke HousePatti Jo Peterson The Plattsmouth Journal June 15, 2006 page 11.)

Here’s to hoping that everyone serving in Iraq and Afghanistan comes home soon, and comes home safely.

Oh, and one more thing: Turn. It. Up.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Oh, Rod

This is what happens when you go from Governor of Illinois to reality TV star to defendant in the dock:

Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich told jurors all about his life and blue collar roots while testifying at his corruption retrial in Chicago on Thursday. Blagojevich is expected to return to the stand on Friday morning.

Introducing himself to jurors, he said, “I used to be your governor” and “I’m here today to tell you the truth.”

The testimony early in the day was mostly autobiographical. In the afternoon, Blagojevich made specific references to comments made, and schemes alleged, by previous witnesses.

Blagojevich’s voice broke when he spoke about his deceased parents. He later choked up when he began to tell the story of how he met his wife, Patti. That prompted Judge James Zagel to send the jury out of the room, and call for a lunch break.

Earlier, Blagojevich addressed his days as an undergrad at Northwestern University. He told jurors that he often felt inferior compared to other students. But he said he got good grades, and was a history buff.

In talking about Winston Churchill and how leaders made decisions, the ex-governor offered a preview of his defense to the corruption charges he faces, some of which are based off secretly taped phone calls with his aides.

Blagojevich said, like Churchill, he believes in “full discussion,” that leaders “should be free” to bounce ideas off advisers, to “end up in the right place.”

Okay, really? Winston Churchill? So, you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar and you expect us to think of you as the guy who nearly single-handedly steeled the will of the English, Scots and Welsh during the Battle of Britain. The guy who famously said:

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

That’s what you’re going to go with?


Nonetheless, despite the overarching political drama (or, perhaps more accurately, melodrama) of today’s testimony, Blago got one thing right – and he expressed it in classic Blago style. With regard to the choice language he used on the infamous tapes government played for the jury, former Governor Goodhair reputedly said:

When I hear myself on those tapes, I sound like a f*cking jerk and I apologize.

Yes, Rod, you do sound like a jerk. And maybe a felon, too.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What Courage Looks Like

I’m not surprised to find a Muslim American who epitomizes courage. I’m not surprised by that because I’m not an anti-Muslim bigot, like so many of my fellow Americans. But I am surprised – pleasantly so – to come across this type of courage, which is extraordinary for any person, no matter what demographic group they may belong to:

DALLAS — Rais Bhuiyan saw Mark Stroman and his gun in the reflection of the window.

Then came the question a robber wouldn’t ask, Bhuiyan thought.

“Where are you from?”

“Excuse me?”

Within seconds, Bhuiyan, a store clerk, fell to the floor of the convenience store on Buckner Boulevard, bleeding profusely from a head wound from the gun blast. It blinded his right eye but miraculously didn't damage his brain.

Stroman, a white supremacist, would later confess he was out for revenge against those of Middle Eastern descent in Mesquite and Dallas days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Already, Stroman had killed one Pakistani immigrant; two weeks later, he’d kill an Indian immigrant.

Now, Bhuiyan wants to forgive.

He’ll be asking for a stay of the July 20 evening scheduled execution of Stroman, and a stop to the “cycle of violence,” as he calls it.

“Sometimes, we human beings make mistakes out of anger,” said Bhuiyan, 37, in an interview Monday with The Dallas Morning News.

Bhuiyan said his Islamic faith led him to realize “hate doesn’t bring any good solution to people. At some point we have to break the cycle of violence. It brings more disaster.”

Last fall, he contacted Dr. Rick Halperin, the director of the human rights education program at Southern Methodist University.

It was a coincidence that Halperin already knew many details of Bhuiyan’s story. Stroman had been corresponding with the professor, an anti-death-penalty activist, for two years.

Bhuiyan explained how the event had shaped his life, how he grew introspective about his faith and how he found answers to why he lived and others died.

The events, Halperin said, “raise questions about compassion and healing and the nature of justice.”

As for Bhuiyan, Halperin said, “I am amazed at the calm with which some can forgive the unforgivable.”

Hadi Jawad of the Dallas Peace Center said Bhuiyan’s actions serve as a lesson for others at a critical time for the nation and the world.

“With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 coming up, we need a narrative of compassion and healing. The world has gone through so much darkness,” Jawad said.

(Via Amnesty International.) For more about Rais Bhuiyan’s story, see The Execution Chronicles.

Right after September 11, I corresponded by e-mail with a good friend of mine, a lawyer who happens to be Jewish, asking: Now what? What should the United States do in response to the attacks? After all, as Pres. Bush correctly said, those unprovoked attacks on American civilians constituted acts of war under any definition of the term. But was war, in fact, the right thing to do under the circumstances? My good friend responded with the words of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr.:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.

I knew he was right, even though few Americans resisted the President’s call for an open ended “war on terror” in the wake of the attacks.

But setting aside broader issues like whether we should have gone into Afghanistan in the first place, what alternatives existed at the time, and whether we should still be there now, Rais Bhuiyan’s story could teach us a thing or two. As despicable a person as Mark Stroman may be – and his acts were as despicable as they come – killing him now accomplishes exactly nothing. He’s in prison, incapacitated, and so long as he remains there he can’t harm Bhuiyan or any other innocent person on the street. The fact is, the only thing state-sanctioned killing accomplishes is killing. It really has no value other than naked retribution, and that’s no value at all.

Even if Stroman is beyond redemption (and who can say that with absolute certainty?); even if he “deserves” to die; at some point somebody has to say: Enough. Rais Bhuiyan is willing to be that person. Sadly, I doubt the State of Texas will listen.

In fact, I doubt very many of us will listen, even those of us who call ourselves “liberal.” And so Mark Stroman will be executed, and nothing will be accomplished, and the cycle of violence will continue.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Happy Birthday, Bob

Still my favorite Bob Dylan tune: “Tangled Up in Blue” from Blood On the Tracks (1975). Hard to believe the guy is 70 today. Then again, it’s hard to believe I’m pushing 50; so, there’s that.

When that album came out in January 1975, I was 12 going on 13 and in the seventh grade. When you’re that age and somebody writes lyrics like this, it makes an impression:

I lived with them on Montague Street

In a basement down the stairs

There was music in the cafés at night

And revolution in the air

Then he started into dealing with slaves

And something inside of him died

She had to sell everything she owned

And froze up inside

And when finally the bottom fell out

I became withdrawn

The only thing I knew how to do

Was to keep on keeping on

Like a bird that flew

Tangled up in blue …

If it’s the 1970s and you write a lyric like “There was music in the cafés at night/And revolution in the air” you can’t not expect a twelve year old boy to get sucked in.

Oh, and here’s a cool factoid: Each verse of “Tangled Up in Blue” is a sonnet (more or less). The give away is:

She opened up a book of poems

And handed it to me

Written by an Italian poet

From the thirteenth century

And everyone of them words rang true

And glowed like burnin’ coal

Pourin’ off of every page

Like it was written in my soul

From me to you

Tangled up in blue …

I always assumed that was a reference to Petrarch, perhaps the most famous writer of Italian sonnets, but Petrarch lived from 1304 to 1374, which was, of course, in the fourteenth century. It could be a reference to Giacomo da Lentini, a thirteenth century Italian poet who is often given credit for originating the sonnet form, but I suspect Dylan just was referring to Petrarch but was off by a century. You know, poetic license and all that. Literally, in this instance.

Ironically (or not), it turns out that the lyrics of “Tangled Up in Blue” actually fit the Shakespearian sonnet format, not the Petrarchan format, because Dylan ends each verse with a rhyming couplet. But, hey, it’s the thought that counts.

Anyway: Happy Birthday, Bob! And thanks for giving me a reason to get my literary geek on.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Got Yer Rapture …

… right here, pal.

It’s 6:01 p.m. Eastern time. Still here.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Your Friday Clash Song: “His Luck It Gave in as the Dawn Light Crept In …”

In honor of Newt Gingrich’s recent political self-immolation, I give you “The Card Cheat” from London Calling (1979):

To the opium den and the barroom gin

In the Belmont chair playing violin

The gambler’s face cracks into a grin

As he lays down the king of spades

But the dealer just stares

There’s something wrong here, he thinks

The gambler is seized and forced to his knees

And shot dead

He only wanted more time

Away from the darkest door

But his luck it gave in

As the dawn light crept in

And he lay on the floor …

Hey, Newt, when even Charles Krauthamer says this about your political career:

He’s done. He didn’t have a big chance from the beginning, but now it’s over. . . . He won’t recover

it’s time to pack it in. Seriously.

And by the way, don’t freak out over the lyrics I quoted. Obviously, I don’t want to see Newt “forced to his knees/And shot dead.” It’s a metaphor, people. Jeez.

Oh, yeah, and then there’s this bit:

Before you meet your fate be sure you

Did not forsake your lover

May not be around anymore …

Well. Ahem. Take that as you will.

Elsewhere, following up on yesterday’s tribute to Joey Ramone on the occasion of his 60th birthday, here’s Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros covering the Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop”:

According to The Clash Wiki, the Clash played “Blitzkreig Bop” live “during 1978, where the band would segue it into the end of Police & Thieves”; and, “[a] live performance from Le Stadium, Paris 1978 is included as a hidden track on the promotional album Rockers Galore,” which is pretty cool.

So, there you go. You know what to do. Turn. It. Up.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Every Time I Eat Vegetables: A Tribute to Joey Ramone

So, Jenna (@lunargrrrl on Twitter) reminds me of this: Today is Joey Ramone’s 60th birthday.


Yes, Joey Ramone was born May 19, 1951. That hardly seems possible. I swear to god it was just a few years ago I saw the Ramones as sophomore at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Turns out, however, it was just about thirty freaking years ago – October 1981 to be precise – meaning Joey was thirty years old at the time. If you would’ve told me he was thirty that night, I would’ve said you were out of your everloving mind.

But so, naturally, I’ve got do this:

“Do You Remember Rock ’n Roll Radio,” performed live on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test, originally on End of the Century (1980). This song pretty much summed up the state of the world at the time:

Do you remember lyin’ in bed

With the covers pulled up over your head

Radio playin’ so no one could hear

We need a change and we need it fast

Before rock’s just part of the past

’Cause lately it all sounds the same to me …

And this:

“Outsider,” from Subterranean Jungle (1983), because, yeah, if anybody ever was an outsider, it was Joey.

And this:

“We Want the Airwaves,” recorded live in October 1981 – just a few weeks after I saw them in Champaign on the Pleasant Dreams tour. Sentimental value and all that. Plus … Ass: Kicked. Knowwhatimsayin?

And finally:

“Every Time I Eat Vegetables It Makes Me Think Of You,” also from Subterranean Jungle, just because it might be the greatest song title ever. And it has the line: “She eats Thorazine in her Farina.” So, there’s that.

Good lord, I miss the Ramones. Bless you Joey, wherever you are.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dear Willie Nelson: Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?

Lest I should be accused of hypocrisy, let me state for the record: As a general matter, I have no problem with artists, including pop musicians and Hollywood actors, spouting off on politics. In fact, it seems rather unsurprising that they would, given that it’s an artist’s job to observe the world and the experiences of the humans who occupy it, and to report back on his or her observations. That’s kind of what artists do. And since that’s what they do – observing and reporting on things that affect people – you’d expect they’d be fairly adept at it, observing and reporting, and that they would therefore be inclined to (a) have opinions and (b) express them.

So, why shouldn’t an artist apply those skills to politics? After all, politics affects the lives of humans almost as much, and sometimes more so, than other commonplace subjects of art – love, relationships, family – so it seems kind of artificial to say to any artist, even a musician or an actor, you can write or speak about every major force that affects people’s lives except politics.

And although we constantly hear media wonks (mostly conservatives media wonks) say that actors and musicians should stay out of politics, that’s really a modern conceit. In fact, throughout history artists routinely addressed the major political and social issues of their day; and not only was that not controversial, it was expected. No one ever told Pablo Picasso that he shouldn’t have painted Guernica; nobody ever told William Shakespeare that he shouldn’t have written those English History plays (the purpose of which was to explain the legitimacy of the Tudor monarchy after the Wars of the Roses); nobody ever told George Orwell not to write Animal Farm or 1984 (not to mention Homage to Catalonia); or told Ernest Hemingway not to write For Whom the Bell Tolls.

But if a pop musician or a film actor writes or speaks about politics, certain folks get their noses out of joint. That’s bizarre.

Okay, but here’s the thing. Not all artists – particularly, not all musicians – are, in fact, equally adept at analyzing complex political and social issues. So even though observation of and reporting on life in general is within the typical artist’s wheelhouse … individual results may vary.

Which brings me to this, from Talking Points Memo:

If you’re running for President on a legalization platform and can’t secure country singer and proud pothead Willie Nelson’s endorsement, you probably should just go home. Fortunately for Republican candidate Gary Johnson, Nelson announced his support on Tuesday.

Nelson met with Johnson after a performance in his native Texas before committing the Teapot Party, a group he founded to advocate for ending restrictions on marijuana, to backing the former New Mexico governor’s campaign.

“I am truly gratified to have the endorsement of such an iconic entertainer, philanthropist, innovator and champion for individual rights as Willie Nelson,” Johnson said in a press release by the group “Not only is he a superstar talent, he is a bold advocate for social change. Americans are demanding the freedom and opportunity to pursue their dreams without interference from a heavy-handed government, and Willie Nelson lends a tremendous voice to those demands.”

According to the release, Johnson is the first presidential candidate to ever receive the group’s backing. Nelson personally backed Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) in the 2004 and 2008 Democratic primaries.

(Hat tip to Alan Colmes’ Liberaland.)

As you may know, Gary Johnson is a favorite of Pres. Obama’s chief “liberal” critic Glenn Greenwald (who’s really more of a libertarian than a liberal, but whatev). Never mind that Johnson “once said he gave his girlfriend ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as a bottom line guide to understanding him[,] … opposes the minimum wage, and believes Roe v. Wade should be overturned”; he’s in favor of legalizing marijuana. So that’s good enough for Willie.

Really? We’ve got two wars going on (three if you count Libya); we’re battling the Tea Party over the Affordable Care Act, workers’ rights, the budget, the environment – not to mention nominations to the federal bench, including likely future Supreme Court nominations. And what you really care about is weed?


Well, that won’t stop me from loving Willie Nelson’s music; but when it comes to political advocacy, I’ll leave that to other, better voices. Like, say, the guy who wrote “Atlantic City,” or “American Skin (41 Shots),” or “Streets of Philadelphia” … There’s a little more to that guy than, you know, weed. He’s a little more adept and a little more nuanced when it comes to observing and commenting on our political environment; and he’s the guy who said this about then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008:

In my job, I travel the world, and occasionally play big stadiums, just like [Barack] Obama. I’ve continued to find [that], wherever I go, America remains a repository of people’s hopes, possibilities and desires, and that, despite the terrible erosion to our standing around the world, accomplished by our recent administration, we remain, for many, a house of dreams.

One thousand George Bush’s and one thousand Dick Cheney’s will never be able to tear that house down. Our sacred house of dreams has been abused, looted and left in a terrible state of disrepair. It needs care, it needs saving, it needs defending against those who would sell it down the river for power or a quick buck. It needs strong arms, hearts and minds.

It needs someone with [Barack] Obama’s understanding, temperateness, deliberativeness, maturity, compassion, toughness and faith to help us rebuild our house once again.

And you know what? Two and a half years later, I still think that’s the case. So I’ll go with that guy – with that musician and that presidential candidate.

Sorry, Willie.

[At the top of the post: the current incarnation of Little Feat doing “Willin’” and “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” originally from Waiting for Columbus (1978).]

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 16, 2011

In Which I Shut Up and Listen

Here’s a funny thing. I thought one of the core principles of liberalism was not only to reject racism and bigotry in all its forms, but to care about what the victims of racism and bigotry have to say on the subject. That’s what I always thought, but a deepening racial divide on the left leaves me scratching my head.

Specifically, yesterday on Twitter a controversy erupted over a piece posted by asiangrrlMN, a regular contributor at the Angry Black Lady Chronicles, called “An Open Letter to White Liberals: My Frank Opinions on Race,” the main gist of which is this (and I’m not censoring the content here):

Before we get started, I have to clarify something. In talking about race, I find that roughly ninety percent of the white liberals engaged in the discussion can understand some of what I’m saying or are at least willing to discuss it with an open mind. A sizably-smaller portion of that ninety percent really get it. However, that leaves about ten percent of white liberal people who are clueless at best when it comes to race–hateful and/or malicious at worst. Yes, liberals. The big-tent party. The party of tolerance and openness and whatnot. I say that with tongue firmly in cheek because while I believe the ideals of the Democratic Party are in line with that kind of thinking, sadly, I often find the reality to be much less savory.

How do you know if you fit into that ten percent? I’ll give you some pointers. If you think we’re past racism in this country or that we are post-racial because hey, we elected a black man, that’s a flag of at least cluelessness. Other indicators are the thought that people of color are too vocal about racism, that we see racism everywhere, that we should be past it, that it wasn’t meant, that, that, that….In other words, too much explaining and excusing going on. Voting for Obama does not make one not racist or racially-insensitive or whatnot. In fact, starting a sentence with I’m not racist, but, or some of my best friends are black, Asian, Latino, pretty much guarantees that the next words coming out of your mouth are going to be viewed with suspicion by the person whom you are addressing.

I know I am repeating this one point over and over again, but I cannot stress it enough–when a person of color or ten tries to tell you something about race/racism, shut the fuck up and listen. Note all the objections bubbling up in your mind, but don’t voice them. Ask questions to clarify things and be willing to be uncomfortable for a few minutes. I promise you it will not kill you to have to sit on your hands before voicing your opinion or to acknowledge that maybe you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about or that you are not the fucking aggrieved one if a person of color points out a a racial incident. In fact, you may actually learn something. Or, you can continue being a dick and insisting that yours is the most important voice in the conversation, thus ensuring that you will be the only voice in said conversation. The choice is entirely yours.

If you’re white like me, think for a moment about that last paragraph, and specifically, about this: when a person of color or ten tries to tell you something about race/racism, shut … up and listen.” Is that really such a shocking concept? That as much we have strong opinions about issues of race – and believe me, I do – when people who have actual experience on the wrong end of our still-racially-intolerant society have something to say about it, we should shut up and listen.

But yesterday, something about that post hit Zaid Jilani of Think Progress the wrong way. On Twitter, Jilani referred to asiangrrlMN’s post as “ridiculous,” and addressed certain of her defenders, including Angry Black Lady herself and vcthree, this way:

@AngryBlackLady protip: anyone who addresses "white liberals" as a whole as one uninamous group is sort of silly, racial politics are dumb

@AngryBlackLady you make liberals look ridiculous, youre the kind fox features to make fun of us

@vcthree all due respect do you do anything useful for anyone ever

@allanbrauer @vcthree making dumb racial generalizations doesn't advance the status of any race

@vcthree protip: way to focus issues is to not condescend to huge group of people on your side -- "white liberals"

And on and on it went.

Now, I should point out a couple of things here. First, I very much like Think Progress – I’ve followed it for years – and I equally like Zaid Jilani. Despite the genuinely regrettable tone of the discussion quoted above, Mr. Jilani has done stellar work at Think Progress and I have no doubt he’ll continue to do so. And equally, if not more, importantly, Mr. Jilani is himself a person of color – so the exchange quoted above hardly qualifies as an instance of a white liberal lecturing to Asians and African Americans about race.

At the same time, however, Mr. Jilani’s basic point appears to be that asiangrrlMN, Angry Black Lady and vcthree – an Asian woman and two African Americans – shouldn’t be asking white liberals to listen to their concerns about race and racism on the left.


Of course white liberals like me should listen to Asians, African Americans and other people of color when they address issues of race and bigotry – especially when they’re addressing issues of race and bigotry on our side. Why wouldn’t we?

So, anyway, yesterday’s Twitter exchange led to another impassioned blog post, this time by vcthree at The Cultured State entitled “You Know What’s Really Unhelpful?” In it, vcthree replied to Mr. Jilani thusly:

Are you kidding me? So if I and others point out a clear fissure that we can see in the Progressives’ approach to race issues; one which has existed for years—decades, even—then we’re being unhelpful for doing so? Why, because reflection on the issue somehow takes you out of your comfort zone, where you’re safe and happy?

I’m tired; we’re tired—tired of having to explain all of this to you after the fact. Just because you attended a lecture on racism, doesn’t mean that you understand what it is to experience it. You don’t. Just because you voted for President Obama, that doesn’t give you a “Black Pass,” nor does it offer you any cover to deflect race issues to him, and go forth on your own issues, expecting POC’s to follow you. It doesn’t. We’re not a monolith, but issues that affect us aren’t supposed to be ignored so generically and monolithically, as some Progressives tend to do, and often. And I don’t want to hear about allies and allegiances; you aren’t my ally if you’re actively dismissing and ignoring my issues, because you can and it’s convenient for you. However, if you’re asking me what you can do to help, and getting involved in that help; then, in that moment, are we allies. Then.

If we really want to have a serious conversation about race in this country, I posit that there’s one side that’s been ready to have that debate; it’s another side that continues to create excuses, or try to draw up preconditions for the discussion, or flat-out refuse to sit at the table. It’s a conversation, not a negotiation, and we shouldn’t have to agree to a precondition contract to have the discussion. That’s holding the conversation on your terms; where you feel comfortable with the format, the questions, and essentially, the solution. No, that’s dishonest. If we’re going to have this conversation? Do it honestly.

Now I should point out that I consider vcthree to be a friend and we’ve had him on The Tim Corrimal Show in the past; but that doesn’t change anything here. Because the point is, whether you agree or disagree with asiangrrlMN or vcthree – or any other person of color who wants to weigh in on the subject – if, like me, you haven’t walked in their shoes, you’re simply not in a position to lecture them or tell them they can’t talk about race and bigotry when they want to. It’s not for you or me to say.

Our history in America is a history of bigotry, discrimination and repression; and guess what? We white folks have largely been the beneficiaries of that history. We don’t know what my friend vcthree has gone through, or what asiangirlMN has gone through, or what anyone else of color has gone through – so we don’t get to lecture them. And if we really care about moving beyond that history of bigotry, discrimination and repression, how can we possibly do so if we aren’t willing to listen to what the victims of it have to say?

It’s really simple. On the subject of racism, we white folks have an obligation to listen first. That’s all: Listen first.

For Christ’s sake, people, how difficult is that?

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.