Friday, September 23, 2011

Speaking of “London Calling” …

… (Well, I was) … I should have included one of my all-time favorite versions:

Joe Strummer with The Pogues, recorded live on St. Patrick’s Day, 1988.


Your Friday Clash Song: Quit Holding Out and Draw Another Breath …

“London Calling,” from the 1979 album of the same name.

It’s a very special Happy Birthday Bruce! edition.

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s right. Today is Bruce Sprinsteen’s 62nd birthday, and it just so happens our man Joe Strummer was a big fan. Via Letters of Note:

When asked for his opinion of Bruce Springsteen in 1997, Joe Strummer sent the following fax to documentary producer Mark Hagen and managed to echo the sentiments of millions of The Boss’s fans. The film in question, ‘Bruce Springsteen: A Secret History’, was broadcast in 1998 on British television. Springsteen returned the compliment during a gig in 2008, declaring Strummer “one of the greatest rockers of all time” before launching into a rendition of I Fought the Law.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Guardian.

Image: Guardian



Dear Mark – here’s my contribution


(Signed, ‘Joe Strummer’)

I just love that: “On a dark & rainy morning in England, just when you need some spirit & some proof that the big wide world exists, the D.J. puts on ‘Racing in the Streets’ & life seems worth living again ...” Yes. Yes it does.

So, without further ado, here’s the man of the hour with his own version of “London Calling”:

From Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, London Calling – Live in Hyde Park DVD (2010).

Now turn ’em both up!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Text of My E-Mail to Judge Penny Haas Freesemann

This may be yet another example of tilting at windmills, but so be it. Earlier this morning I e-mailed Judge Penny Haas Freesemann of the Eastern Judicial Circuit of Georgia in Chatham County, who, according to Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm, would decide any petition to withdraw the death warrant in Troy Davis’ case. The text of my letter follows:

Dear Judge Freesemann,

I know you are inundated with e-mails today, and I do not know whether you are, in fact, in a position to act with regard to the death warrant in Troy Davis’ case. Nonetheless, as an attorney with 24 years’ experience here in Illinois, I feel compelled to correspond with you in an effort to promote what I see as our cardinal ethical obligation as legal professionals: To protect and defend the integrity of the legal system and to promote respect for the rule of law.

I will not belabor the facts you already know. From the multiple recantations of key witnesses to the lack of physical evidence tying Mr. Davis to the murder of Officer McPhail, the underlying case against him is riddled with doubt. In his concurring opinion in the Supreme Court’s 2009 order transferring Mr. Davis’ habeas corpus petition to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Justice Stevens noted that “it ‘would be an atrocious violation of our Constitution and the principles upon which it is based’ to execute an innocent person,” quoting In re Davis, 565 F. 3d 810, 830 (11th Cir. 2009) (Barkett, J., dissenting). In re Troy Anthony Davis, No. 08-1443 (U.S. Sup. Ct. Aug. 17, 2009), slip op. at 2. And while the District Court ultimately found that Mr. Davis failed to “clearly establish[ ] [his] innocence” in accordance with the Supreme Court’s order (see id., at 1), the doubts that persist with respect to his guilt or innocence leave open the very grave possibility that if the execution occurs today, the State of Georgia will be committing just such an atrocious violation of our Constitution.

Moreover, whether or not Mr. Davis’ execution is technically legal, whether or not he has been afforded his due process rights in some technical legal sense, going forward with the execution in the present circumstances will undoubtedly weaken respect for the law and the legal system throughout our country. How can we, as lawyers and judges, expect ordinary Americans to accept the fact that a potentially innocent man has been executed ... but at least the courts jumped through all the right hoops before executing him? To the public, the glaring fact remains: The legal system failed to satisfy the most basic principle ensconced in our Constitution – that the government should not be able to take a person’s life unless his guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt. The public will not take solace in legal technicalities, and as a lawyer I do not take solace in them either.

So far, the legal system has failed to provide a remedy to Mr. Davis, and that failure weakens the legal system itself and promotes disrespect for the rule of law. If you have the power to prevent this execution from going forward, I strongly urge you to exercise that power – not only for Mr. Davis’ sake, but for the sake of the legal system. You may well have the power to save the life of a potentially innocent man and to restore faith in the law with the stroke of a pen. By doing so, you would demonstrate to the public that the law cares more for substance than procedure, that legal technicalities cannot stand in the way of vindicating our core constitutional values.

I sincerely hope you will consider whatever options are available to you.

Kind regards and with the utmost respect,

Elsewhere, the AP reports that Davis’ attorneys plan to file one last appeal today:

Davis’ lawyers drew up a late appeal asking a local judge to block the execution over evidence they object to. Defense attorney Brian Kammer told The Associated Press he would file the appeal in Superior Court in Butts County, home of the state’s death row, when it opens Wednesday.

(Via Think Progess on Twitter.)

Needless to say, that appeal is a long shot, as are requests to either the District Attorney or Judge Freesemann to withdraw the death warrant. Long shots, but not necessarily impossible …

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Music For Your Final Hours

Steve Earle with a live version of “Billy Austin” recorded in 1991:

Now my waiting’s over

As the final hour drags by

I ain’t about to tell you

That I don’t deserve to die

But there’s twenty-seven men here

Mostly black, brown and poor

Most of ’em are guilty

Who are you to say for sure?

So when the preacher comes to get me

And they shave off all my hair

Could you take that long walk with me

Knowing hell is waitin’ there

Could you pull that switch yourself sir

With a sure and steady hand

Could you still tell yourself

That you’re better than I am

Just seems appropriate tonight.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Spare the Life of Troy Davis

As much as I’ve decided to eschew politics on this blog, I have to weigh in on an issue that some might describe as political. I don’t see it that way; I see it as a simple moral issue. Then again, I’ve been inalterably opposed to the death penalty all my life; it’s never been about liberal or conservative values – just human values.

Anyway, even if you don’t reflexively oppose the death penalty like I do the case of Troy Davis, scheduled to die by lethal injection in Georgia on September 21, should give you pause. If you don’t know Davis’ story, here’s the back ground. And note that this comes from none other than William Sessions, former director of the FBI. Not exactly a faint-hearted, weak-kneed liberal. Anyway, Mr. Sessions describes the Troy Davis case this way:

As Troy Davis faces his fourth execution date on Sept. 21, many may assume that lingering doubts about the case have been resolved. This is far from true, and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles — which has several new members since the Davis case last crossed its desks — has the daunting task of reviewing one of the most controversial cases the state has ever seen.

What quickly will become apparent is that serious questions about Davis’ guilt, highlighted by witness recantations, allegations of police coercion and a lack of relevant physical evidence, continue to plague his conviction. Last summer, an extraordinary hearing ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to answer these questions instead left us with more doubt.

At Davis’ evidentiary hearing, witnesses called by Davis recanted trial testimony and made allegations of police pressure. Others testified that an alternative suspect had confessed to them that he committed the crime. One eyewitness testified, for the first time, that he saw this other suspect, a relative of his, commit the crime. Police witnesses for the state of Georgia alternatively asserted that the original trial testimony was the true version of events and that it was elicited without coercion.

Some of these same witnesses also had testified at Davis’ trial but have since recanted their trial testimony. The judge at the evidentiary hearing found their recantations to be unreliable and, therefore, found Davis was unable to “clearly establish” his innocence. The problem is that the testimony of these same witnesses, whom the judge had determined were less believable, had been essential to the original conviction and death sentence.

As a lawyer, this is extremely disheartening. The issue here is not whether Mr. Davis should be set free or whether his conviction should be thrown out, but whether the state of Georgia should be permitted to go forward with his execution in the face of serious doubts as to his guilt or innocence. Logic would dictate that in such a case, at a bare minimum, his death sentence should be vacated or commuted; better to let the man live so that those doubts can be cleared up than to kill him without resolving those doubts, right? Apparently, however, the courts could not provide a legal remedy to Mr. Davis because he, the condemned man himself, “was unable to ‘clearly establish’ his innocence” at last year’s Supreme-Court-ordered hearing to review his sentence. Perhaps the court applied the correct legal standard in the context of that hearing (I’m no expert in the field), but if so that tells you that the legal system has clearly broken down. If our courts cannot set aside a death sentence when the defendant’s guilt is clearly in doubt, we need to rethink our approach to these cases.

There is, however, one last avenue for relief. As Mr. Sessions says, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles will meet tomorrow, September 19, to consider granting Mr. Davis executive clemency:

In 2007, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a stay of execution for Davis and took the admirable position that it would “not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.”

Because this case continues to be permeated by doubt, the Board of Pardons and Paroles’ stance continues to be the right one. In reality, there will always be cases, including capital cases, in which doubts about guilt cannot be erased to an acceptable level of certainty. The Davis case is one of these, and it is for cases like this that executive clemency exists.

Those responsible for clemency play a vital role in ensuring our legal system includes a measure of compassion and humanity. The death penalty should not be carried out, and Davis’ sentence should be commuted to life.

That is absolutely correct, as my friend and local writer Emily L. Hauser has been arguing for days now. See her posts here, here, here, and here, with multiple links to online petitions and contact information of various state officials so that you can add your voice to the thousands who have urged the state of Georgia to reconsider the execution of Troy Davis. Please also take a moment to read Emily’s outstanding piece in The Atlantic called “Explaining the Death Penalty to my Children.” It’s one of the most cogent things I’ve read on the subject. I also highly recommend Karoli’s excellent piece, “A Letter to Georgia: Do Not Come What You Loathe,” from the perspective of someone whose family has endured a murder but who still opposes Mr. Davis’ execution. Really moving stuff.

But even apart from Troy Davis’ case, let me reiterate that I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases. I know that view isn’t shared by the majority of Americans, but so be it. It is my view and always has been. I make no apologies for it.

So I’ll leave you with the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall from his concurring opinion in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 371 (1972), a case that struck down the death penalty as it was then imposed in the state of Georgia and elsewhere throughout the United States:

At a time in our history when the streets of the Nation’s cities inspire fear and despair, rather than pride and hope, it is difficult to maintain objectivity and concern for our fellow citizens. But, the measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in time of crisis. No nation in the recorded history of man has a greater tradition of revering justice and fair treatment for all its citizens in times of turmoil, confusion, and tension than ours. This is a country which stands tallest in troubled times, a country that clings to fundamental principles, cherishes its constitutional heritage, and rejects simple solutions that compromise the values that lie at the roots of our democratic system.

In striking down capital punishment, this Court does not malign our system of government. On the contrary, it pays homage to it. Only in a free society could right triumph in difficult times, and could civilization record its magnificent advancement. In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. We achieve “a major milestone in the long road up from barbarism” and join the approximately 70 other jurisdictions in the world which celebrate their regard for civilization and humanity by shunning capital punishment.

Unfortunately, Justice Marshall’s optimism was short lived. Just four years later, in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, subject to certain procedural controls. Nonetheless, I believe Justice Marshall had it exactly right. We are better than the death penalty.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Your Friday Clash Song: You Must Not Relent …

This may or may not have been inspired by the release of the new film Contagion or a recent presidential candidates’ debate. “Inoculated City,” from Combat Rock (1982). Either way, it’s a great song. Oddly enough, the original version (video) includes an audio sample from a “2000 Flushes” television commercial, but that was deleted from later versions of Combat Rock. Here’s the longer version from the Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg recording (which eventually became Combat Rock):

So, there you go. Whether you like the long version or the short version, you know what to do.

Turn. It. Up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Johnny Cash, February 16, 1932 – September 12, 2003

Yes, I’m a day late, but it’s stil worth mentioning: Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of the passing of an American legend, Johnny Cash.

I was aware of it yesterday but didn’t get around to posting anything due to a million other things; but this morning when my Twitter pal Rosanne Cash (@rosannecash) mentioned that she’ll be playing a show in New York with the Jayhawks (@the_jayhawks) next month, I was reminded of the one and only time my wife and I were fortunate enough to see her father – here in Chicago in August 1994 … with the Jayhawks doing the opening set. It was a great show, notable not only for the phenomenal performance of the elder Cash but because of the incredibly (and appropriately) eclectic crowd. We were there with another lawyer-couple, and there were a fair number of well-scrubbed, urban professional types in the crowd – along with surly teens in black t-shirts, flannel-shirted grunge-types, hipsters, Goths, and, of course, graying old bikers with enormous belt buckles, Harley shirts, leather vests. Suffice it to say the entire history of men’s facial hair was on display that night. And probably some women’s facial hair, too.

It’s also worth mentioning that the mid-1990s was a very prolific time for Johnny Cash. He had just released the brilliant American Recordings LP, reinventing himself and his music for what must have been the hundredth time in his career. As you may know, he went on to record a total of six American Recordings albums with producer Rick Rubin, the last two of which were released after his death. American Recordings IV: The Man Comes Around, released in 2002, is probably the best known of the series. That’s the one that includes his incredible re-working of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” two songs I never could have imagined Johnny Cash covering when they came out; and yet, in a sense, it made perfect sense for him to cover those songs in the twilight of his career.

It made sense for Johnny Cash to branch out and cover modern artists like Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode because he always was one of the most open-minded artists around. Though his own music was predominantly traditional country and Southern gospel, he embraced everybody – including, at the height of the anti-war and civil rights movements, counter-culture figures like Bob Dylan, Kris Kristopherson, and Joni Mitchell. Take a look at the rundown of artists who appeared on his television show from 1969 to 1971: It literally represents voices from all aspects of American society at the time. So, covering modern alternative rock acts made perfect sense for Johnny Cash in the 1990s and 2000s.

But on the anniversary of his death, I have to go back to the song at the top of this post, “Man In Black.” If there’s one song that’s essentially Johnny Cash’s manifesto, it’s this:

I wear the black for the poor and beaten down

Living in the hopeless hungry side of town

I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime

But is there because he’s a victim of the times …

I wear it for the sick and lonely old

For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold

I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been

Each week we lose a hundred fine young men …

Well there’s things that never will be right I know

And things need changing everywhere you go

But till we start to make a move to make a few things right

You’ll never see me wear a suit of white …

Yeah, that pretty much sums up who he was. What a great artist.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Do You Say to a Five Year Old?

Yes, it is overkill as a matter of fact. This constant stream of news stories and reminiscences, this obsession with the calamity of September 11, 2001, is complete overkill. Local DJ Lin Brehmer (no ordinary DJ, mind you) refers to our remembrances of days like this as “nega-versaries,” the anniversaries of tragedies that seem to captivate Americans like nothing else.

It’s overkill, but to some extent it’s unavoidable … because we do remember events like September 11 whether we want to or not; and those memories are keener on anniversaries of the event and, I guess, keener still on bigger, “rounder” anniversaries like the fifth and tenth anniversaries. That it seems illogical doesn’t make it less real: We’re hardwired to think there’s something especially significant or poignant about the ten year anniversary of September 11, and to pretend we’re not is an exercise in futility.

So with apologies to my friends who are sick and tired of hearing about it, there’s something about September 11 that I feel the need to recall and to write about today, and I’m just going to go ahead and do it. Because this is a part of the September 11 story that doesn’t get much attention: The way the events of that day affected parents of young children and, more importantly, those young kids themselves. It’s not as gripping as the stories of the first responders, nor as tragic as the stories of those who died and those who lost family members and friends. I’m not trying to compete with those stories; I’m only saying that for someone like me – the father of five and three year old boys at the time – the events of that day presented a unique challenge; and for our boys, who are now 15 and 13, and our daughter, now 9, who was born two months later, the September 11 attacks and what followed may have an effect that’s even harder to fathom.

Harder to fathom, but not altogether unfamiliar.

Anyway, the thing is this: On September 11 and for the next few days, my wife and I did everything we could to shelter our boys from the news, because that’s not really the kind of thing a five and a three year old boy should have to deal with. But we knew we couldn’t keep the story from them for very long, especially because our older boy, Paul, had just started kindergarten at the elementary school down the street and there was virtually no way to prevent him from overhearing older kids or adults talking about it. Moreover, on that Friday, September 14, Paul’s school held an assembly for the kids to address what had happened. The younger kids were spared the gory details, but they were asked to make paper doves for the assembly and they did play some role in it. So at a minimum, Paul was bound to have heard something about the attacks by the end of that week.

It also happened that on that Friday night my wife had plans to meet some friends downtown, and so I was alone with the boys that evening. So after dinner as the three of us were sitting in the boys’ room playing with Legos or whatever, I decided I had to talk to them about what had happened and what they knew. I asked them if they’d heard anything about people getting hurt in New York City earlier in the week. They both looked at me with blank stares. I tried again, asking if they’d heard about a building catching fire or anything like that. Still nothing. So then I asked, “What about a plane crash?”

“Oh, yeah,” Paul said. Mark, our three year old, said nothing. By this point, I thought he’d pretty much lost interest in the conversation.

But Paul went on: “Yeah, I heard about that. But the good thing is, the bad guys got killed too.”

Now bear in mind, he’s five years old at the time. He sees pretty much everything through the prism of superheroes and children’s cartoons and black-and-white good-versus-evil, and so none of this had any real meaning to him. “The bad guys got killed” just means some sort of justice was served, some loose ends of the storyline got tied up. No big deal.

But as we were sitting there, I recalled something I’d read earlier in a special edition of the Chicago Tribune that was published on the evening of September 11 and distributed to every household in the area. In one article, a Tribune reporter had asked various religious leaders for their reaction to the attacks, and Greek Orthodox priest – I wish I knew his name – made the most remarkable observation I had heard at the time. He said in addition to the horrific loss of innocent life, people should mourn the deaths of the highjackers, too, because they were children of God like everybody else; they came into this world as innocent souls and somewhere along the line they were lost. And that loss was tragic too.

Even if you take the religious overtones out of it, the priest had a point. These young men weren’t born highjackers and murders. They were born human beings like the rest of us. They went astray, of course; somehow and for whatever reason the learned to hate and they learned to kill; but they weren’t born that way. Somehow, between birth and death, they lost their way. And that was sad, too.

So that Friday night, sitting in my boys’ room with the world still not making any sense, I tried to convey that idea to my five year old son. I said, no, really it’s not a good thing that the bad guys died too. I said they weren’t always bad guys, but at some point in their lives they turned to bad ideas; they started out good and became bad. And if they hadn’t gone through with the attacks; if, for some reason, they decided at the last minute that they weren’t going to kill innocent people – or if they just chickened out, or got caught – maybe there was a chance that they could come around, that they could learn that whatever grievance they felt they had against whomever the felt they had it, it didn’t justify the wonton murder of thousands of innocent people. Maybe they could have been saved, somehow. So their dying, on top of the thousands of innocent people who died that day, really wasn’t a good thing after all.

I don’t know if that made any sense to Paul. He seemed to understand, at least on some level, but I couldn’t really tell. As for Mark, I’m fairly sure all of this was over his head. But as Paul and I were talking about this, Mark climbed into my lap and held on to me. He knew there was something deadly serious going on, even if he didn’t know what it was.

Did all of this make any difference? I don’t know. All I can tell you is, I did the best I could under the circumstances.

But what’s always bothered me about that day and the events that happened over the next couple of years is this: I realized then that the events of September 11 and what followed were going to be for my kids what Vietnam was for me. Having been born in 1962, I grew up with Vietnam. It was everywhere I looked when I was little. When I was five or six years old, Vietnam dominated every news broadcast on television or radio; it dominated every conversation my parents and older siblings had; it was on the front page of every newspaper and every magazine. There were images of the war everywhere, and even as a young kid I knew that people were fighting and dying overseas every day. And I knew there was a risk that my older brothers could get drafted and might have to go to fight in Vietnam.

And maybe worse than all that, I learned at a very early age that there were serious doubts about the morality and the justification for the war in Vietnam.

I wonder if the architects of Vietnam ever thought about that: That my generation was the first generation in American history to have to ask, at a very early age, whether our country was engaged in an illegal and unjustified war; whether our country had betrayed its most sacred principles. Yes, our country had made grave mistakes before – just ask Native Americans – but most people learn about those things when they’re older, maybe in high school or so, and are better able to balance the good things in our history with the bad. But because Vietnam was ubiquitous in the late 1960s, my generation grew up questioning from a very early age whether our government had ginned up an excuse to wage a war in a foreign country in violation of everything we were supposed to believe in.

So I worry whether in the years since September 11 we’ve bequeathed that same horrible thing on my kids’ generation. After all, the wars that followed the September 11 attacks are more or less all they know, and at least in the case of Iraq the same awful questions linger.

I grew up feeling like a part of my youth had been stolen from me by a government that was willing to lie the country into war in Southeast Asia. Now I have to ask whether we’ve done the same thing to my kids’ generation.

[Pictured at the top: Students from St. Joan of Arc School in Lisle, Illinois, forming a human peace sign on September 9, 2011, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.]

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Real Journalist Talks About Her Experience on September 11

View more videos at:

Carol Marin, the political editor of WMAQ in Chicago and a Chicago-Sun Times columnist, was in New York City on September 11, 2001, in the vicinity of the World Trade Center as the second tower fell. In this clip, she talks about that experience and the firefighter who saved her life. Although she is reluctant to relive that experience, I think the clip is well worth listening to.

A couple of observations here. If you’re not familiar with Carol Marin, she is an outstanding journalist – one of a handful of local reporters who are the real deal. She’s been covering the MMA-like world of Chicago and Illinois politics for years and I think it’s safe to say that everyone who’s familiar with her work holds her in high regard. By way of example but not limitation, Carol Marin might be best known for quitting her job as an anchor of WMAQ’s 10 p.m. newscast in 1997 to protest the station’s hiring Jerry Springer to provide occasional political commentary – a move that demonstrated the kind of journalistic integrity she’s always epitomized. (To his credit, her co-anchor, Ron Magers, also quit in protest; he’s now an anchor at WLS in Chicago.)

Also, it so happens that on the afternoon of September 11 I was in my car listening to a local radio station, WXRT, when they reached Carol Marin by telephone from New York and talked to her about what she had experienced. This was within a few hours of the second tower’s collapse, and you could tell from the tone of her voice how upsetting it had been, and how grateful she was to have survived. That really stuck with me over the years, and listening to her story again reminds me just how eerie everything felt that afternoon.

One more personal note. I ran into Carol Marin – almost literally – a few weeks after September 11 while running my first Chicago Marathon. It was October 7, 2001, to be precise (which happens to be the day the invasion of Afghanistan officially began), and it’s a pretty un-glamorous story, inasmuch as it involves a desperately needed bathroom break just about a mile and a half into the race where the first port-a-potties were located … But the point is, we both happened to be exiting the (ahem) rest stop at about the same time, and so, like the shameless goof I am, I introduced myself to her and we ran together for a block or so, chatting briefly about that that awful day. She was every bit as unassuming as she is in the video clip above, expressing her gratitude for the firefighter who kept her out of harm’s way. I said something to the effect that I was glad and relieved she was okay – which was true – but I’m sure it sounded completely trite. Nonetheless, she was really gracious about it, and I’ve always appreciated that.

Anyway, it’s a minor thing, to be sure, but it’s one of those indelible memories from September 11 and the weeks that followed.

And before you ask, I have no idea if she finished ahead of me, or I finished ahead of her. I’m pretty sure neither one of us won the race, though.

Your Friday Clash Song: Repression … Gonna Start On Tuesday!

Why haven’t I played this song before? “Remote Control” from the debut album, The Clash, released in the U.K. in 1977. A slightly different version of The Clash was released in the U.S. in 1979, but it also included “Remote Control.”

The story behind “Remote Control” is odd to me, because I’ve always loved it. Apparently, however, the band didn’t think it was so great:

[“Remote Control” was] [r]eleased as a single by CBS without the band’s permission whilst they were touring Europe. The Clash saw this as a major challenge to the control of their own material, and were especially unhappy as the song was already available on the album (The Clash wanted to release new songs as singles to offer maximum value for money to fans) and they didn’t believe it was a strong enough song to be an A-side. This incident resulted in (and is written about in) the song Complete Control.

Hence, the lyric in “Complete Control”:

They said, “Release ‘Remote Control’!”

But we didn’t want it on the label …

Well, Mick Jones may have thought it was “a turkey,” but I think it’s great. So, I’ll double down and add this insanely awesome live version recorded in Mont-de-Marsan, France in 1977:

Take that!

Okay, so, one last thing. With the tenth anniversary of September 11 looming, this keeps going through my head and I’m not sure why:

Johnny Cash with Joe Strummer doing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” I don’t really know why this seems so appropriate this weekend. Maybe it’s just because it’s two of my favorite performers, both of whom died after 9/11, and the world is just a little emptier without them. If anyone could make sense out of what happened then and what’s happened since, it was Johnny and Joe. And yet they’re gone. That sucks.

Well. Ahem. On that note … have a great weekend!

And: Turn. It. Up.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Your Labor Day Weekend Soundtrack, Part 2

Well I can’t outdo Peter Rothberg’s “Top Ten Labor Day Songs” at The Nation, but I’ll add these to your holiday playlist.

First, an obvious choice for me: “Clampdown,” by the Clash:

The men at the factory are old and cunning

You don’t owe nothing, boy get running

It’s the best years of your life they want to steal …

(Here’s a great live version of “Clampdown” that can’t be embedded, unfortunately.)

And speaking of the Clash … “Career Opportunities”:

Career opportunities, the ones that never knock

Every job they offer you’s to keep you off the dock …

Here’s Los Lobos with a reminder that American workers come from all walks of life: “Will The Wolf Survive?” from their 1984 album of the same name.

And, yeah, I can’t leave Bruce Springsteen off the list. With Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello doing “The Ghost of Tom Joad”:

No home no job no peace no rest …

Because on Labor Day it’s worth remembering the millions of Americans who lack adequate work and the dire consequences that flow from it.

Okay, but it is still a holiday, after all, so we have to end on a high note – and for the record, I make no apologies for this. It’s 1980s camp rock at its finest: The BusBoys, “American Worker”:

And, of course … “Minimum Wage”:

Happy Labor Day!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Your Labor Day Weekend Soundtrack, Part 1

Bruce Springsteen, recorded live in the studio in 1978, with “The Promise,” which is more or less a sequel to “Thunder Road.” This is probably the best song ever written about having your dreams crushed: We’re gonna take it all, we’re gonna throw it all away …

But it’s a great song just the same.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Your Friday Clash Song: Start All Over Again

“Wrong ’Em Boyo,” from London Calling (1979), another great cover of an obscure but outstanding ska/reggae song.


The song The Clash abandon at the outset of “Wrong ’Em Boyo” is Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee.” Seems like a nice shout-out to early rock ’n’ roll/New Orleans R&B, right? But here’s the thing: “Wrong ’Em Boyo” is actually a note-for-note cover of a song by a little-known ska band called The Rulers — yes, including the false start and the “start it all over again.” Okay, deep breath. In “Stagger Lee,” Price, a founding father of rock ’n’ roll, was paying homage to early blues music, singing a song about a character who’s deeply rooted in early American blues and folk music — even though he was modernizing it by turning it into R&B. His modernized blues wafted across the Caribbean (American radio was choppy but listenable in Jamaica), and it inspired a bunch of Jamaicans to first cover American R&B and then, uh, invent ska. (Without American R&B, ska wouldn’t exist. Trust us: this is true.) In covering The Rulers’ “Wrong ’Em Boyo,” The Clash are paying homage to a) early American blues, b) New Orleans R&B and rock ’n’ roll, c) ska and its influence on punk rock, and d) all of humanity, history and beauty. Or something like that.

Sounds about right.

Anyway, here’s the Rulers’ original version:

And I have to point out that when you Google “the rulers wrong em boyo” one of the links that comes up brilliantly if mistakenly identifies the song as … wait for it … “Wrong Embryo.” When you click on the link, however, the YouTube video that comes up actually labels the song “Wrong Emboyo” … which is almost correct; but I’m disappointed it’s not “Wrong Embryo.” Because if you’re going to screw up a song title, you might as well do it hilariously.

Anyway, there you go. Your Friday Clash Song: “Wrong ’Em Boyo.”

Turn. It. Up.