Sunday, May 28, 2017

Keep The Civil War In Memorial Day

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument is rotting while Jefferson Davis' statues gleam across the South

Memorial Day is the one national holiday this country has connected to its most consequential event, the Civil War. You wouldn't know that, however, since it has been turned into a day to kick off summer, or has been co-opted as a day to express loyalty to veterans and the military. I don't want to be the pedant who has to say this, but I will: Memorial Day has NOTHING to do with veterans or people currently serving in the armed forces. It is a day to honor the dead of America's wars.

The Civil War, which took the lives of 2% of the entire country's population, required some kind of way to make sense of such immense loss. Already right after the war in May of 1865 freedmen and freedwomen in Charleston, South Carolina, honored the Union dead as a way to acknowledge the sacrifice that they had made for their freedom. While Memorial Day would not exist in an official capacity until 1868, the early, unofficial celebrations like the one in Charlestown demonstrated the desire to commemorate the dead.

It is time that we do more to acknowledge the memory of the Civil War from the viewpoint of the Union. While I whole-heartedly support the removal of Confederate monuments, that necessary work does not build up a positive counter-narrative. The Civil War monuments in the North have languished. Just go check out the graffitied and decrepit Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the Upper West Side of New York. That needs to change.

We need to remember the immense sacrifice necessary to end slavery and reunite the country. We need to remember the heroic deeds of slaves, who were the primary actors in the story of their emancipation. We need to stop seeing the Civil War through the frame of "brother against brother" and (even worse) "tragedy." And I think we should also use this day also to remember Reconstruction, and those who perished trying to improve the lives of African Americans. We need to remember that much struggle still needs to happen.

I think Lincoln's words in Gettysburg are still unequaled, and should be the basis of our commemorations on Memorial Day.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Another Late Night Of Fear And Loathing


Here I am, another night when everyone in the house (including the dog) is asleep, and I'm alone with my thoughts. As a harried dad I usually cherish this alone time, but over the past couple of years I've spent these late nights full of worry and anxiety.  

Hunter S Thompson coined the phrase "fear and loathing" to describe his own emotions about the state of the nation during the political backlash of the Nixon years. I find it awfully applicable today. There has never been a week since his death that I have more wished that Hunter S Thompson were alive to be writing about current events. I feel like he is maybe the only person who could have made any sense of this insanity.

Last night I couldn't sleep because I have a loved one in Portland who is the kind of person who would stand up to a bigot. I hadn't heard back from him and feared the worst. I then told myself to stop being so self-centered about it, then broke down thinking of the stabbing victims and their families. 

After hearing their names and seeing their faces, I am thinking about them tonight, but also about the utter hopelessness I feel. Yes, it's fun to fantasize about Jared Kushner wearing hipster-cut prison uniforms, but the news of the massive implosion in the White House arouses more dread than gloating in me. 

The most powerful position in the world belongs to a man who is a craven, bigoted, narcissistic, sociopathic, demented ignoramus. He stays in power because he is protected by Paul Ryan and his minions, right wing Bolsheviks who will stop at nothing to make their inhumane, extremist ideology a reality. Despite their awful behavior, they will remain in power due to a combination of voter suppression, dark money, gerrymandering, and the complete incompetence of their opponents.

I hate to tell you this folks, but things are not about to get better, they are about to get worse. I get the feeling that a man as horrible and irresponsible as Trump will do some pretty terrible things once he gets backed into a corner, which is likely soon to happen. I am honestly not sure if our democracy is going to survive the next three years, it barely exists anymore anyway.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Stars Wars As 70s Cinema

Check out those sideburns!

[Editor's Note: Today is the 40th anniversary of the initial release of Star Wars, and keeping with tradition on this blog, I'm writing about it.]

For years there's been a narrative in film criticism that Star Wars was the death knell for the flowering of personal, edgy American cinema in the 1970s. After that point Hollywood would prize blockbusters more than small films by auteurs, seeing them as the key to big bucks after Star Wars' unprecedented success. This is all mostly true, of course, but it ignores one crucial factor: Star Wars itself was a product of the 70s cinema culture that it helped to destroy. Its roots in the auteur-driven, realist cinema of the polyester decade are in fact what made it so good and has helped it endure.

Let's first take the fact that 20th Century Fox was willing to give George Lucas millions of dollars to make a kind a movie with a plot and setting more commonly associated with B movies and 1940s serials. The freedom given to directors by studios is what enabled Lucas to even make this film in the first place. In today's environment there's no way a studio would allow a director the level of creative control Lucas had on Star Wars.

On the surface, the setting of Star Wars seems antithetical to the realist currents of 70s cinema. Watch a Robert Altman film of the era, for example, and you will go into people's cluttered living rooms in a way Hollywood films today never do. In Star Wars, we are sent off into a fantastical galaxy far, far away. But it still has the values of 70s cinema. As many before me have discussed, this is a "lived in" universe in ways that prior sci-fi and space fantasy never were. People usually talk about the beat up spaceships and dirty taverns, but there are even deeper examples. For example, when we go into the Lars homestead and see that bottle of blue milk and hear the hum of cooking machines, it reminds me of Elliot Gould's apartment in The Long Goodbye. The "lived in" world of Star Wars makes it so much more human and accessible than all of the space movies that came before and after. Luke Skywalker feels like a small town kid aching to get out, as much as Richard Dreyfus in American Graffiti.

Then, of course, there's Lucas himself. Like most of the other directors of New Hollywood, Lucas was of a generation that went to film school and was deeply influenced by foreign film. His first film, THX 1138, is both small and challenging, much like the films of other auteurs of his generation like Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, and others. American Graffiti was a crowd-pleaser, but it really just shows a slice of life on one night in a small town. Star Wars was more ambitious, but was grounded heavily in his foreign film influences. As Lucas himself has been quick to point out, Star Wars owes a huge debt to Akira Kurosawa. The plot resembles that of Hidden Fortress, and R2D2 and C-3PO were directly inspired by characters in that film. That's only the beginning, obviously. You can add the samurai sword nature of lightsaber fights and the long shots of the droids traversing the Tatooine desert.

But hey, don't take my word for it. If you can, get your mitts on a despecialized edition of the film and see it was originally made without all the embellishments. What you will see is a gloriously shaggy 70s movie, from the sideburns all over the rebel pilots and imperial officers to the ratty cantina to the matte paintings to Luke's haircut. And yes, Lucas did a lot of things new, such as his much more rapid pace of editing and his pulpy subject matter. But as much as Star Wars heralded the changes to come in filmdom, it only got there because it incorporated so well the milieu it would ironically destroy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tom Waits, "San Diego Serenade"


I'm currently planning my road trip out to Nebraska to see my family this summer. I am getting excited by all of the possibilities of travel open to us, but also by spending a few days in the slower, less hectic world under the big Great Plains sky. While driving my kids around the suburban streets of northern New Jersey (my current home) this evening, I had a semi-official bootleg of a 1974 Tom Waits radio program on the stereo, and was struck deep by "San Diego Serenade."

It's a song Waits wrote about his hometown after having moved to and fully embraced Los Angeles. Like a lot of people (including yours truly) who leave where they're from to make their way in the world, he had long looked down on his hometown. The song is about that feeling when your teen angst fades and you can see the place where you grew up with more sympathetic eyes. The line "I never saw my hometown/ Until I stayed away too long" pretty much sums it up. My hometown is not as comely as San Diego, but it too deserves a serenade from me.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Nixon Ad That Was Roger Ailes' Ur-Text


I hadn't talked about Roger Ailes' death because his body wasn't in the ground until yesterday, and there's no point in spitting on an empty grave. 

Well now I can have at it. Plenty of people have been writing his obituary, and if you want a really good one, read Matt Taibbi's. No, I am just going to play historian here, and discuss an artifact of Ailes' that embodied his worldview and tactics. In 1968 he had his big chance when Nixon made him the head of his campaign's television operation. Ailes responded by making inflammatory commercials intended to excite the resentments of white middle and working class voters who might otherwise be inclined to vote for Democrats. 

They are not subtle. While the completely insane "Convention" ad might be the most egregious example, it was so far beyond the pale that networks wouldn't run it. "The First Civil Right," on the other hand, used similar techniques in subtler ways. It used a sinister-sounding soundtrack, which accentuated the pictures of violent and even bloody protests shown in rapid succession. Nixon starts to intone about the need to address "the problem of order." We never see his face, only these images, which get increasingly heavy handed. For instance, it ends with what looks like the wreckage from a riot, and a coin machine reading "CHANGE" on it. The message is clear: protest groups calling for change are merely violent anarchists, and the iron hand of law and order must be brought to bear against them. As Nixon says, "Peace is the first civil right," implying order trumps any calls for social justice.

This ad does so much. The images and music are designed to turn off the brain and feel threatened. It treats "law and order" as a positive civil rights issue in the language, while using the music and pictures to jar the viewer into responded to their fear reflex in their lizard brains. It so expertly combines a well-cloaked lie in subliminal messages, the kind of thing Ailes brought to bear on Fox News. I still remember coming back to my apartment on 9/11, and my roommate (who at the time was politically naive) watching the coverage on Fox News. It just showed the towers getting hit and collapsing, over and over and over again, but interspersed with images of Palestinians celebrating the attack. The message was clear: go out and kill those people. In less than two years, we'd invaded Iraq.

I have witnessed the human effects of this strategy first hand. People who were once merely conservative in their viewpoints start spouting insane conspiracy theories once they become regular Fox viewers. Ailes mastered Nixon's message of the "silent majority" ie "real America" versus "them," the anti-America. Not only did that message twice win Nixon the presidency, Ailes then used it to preach to an audience in our current day and age frightened by change and resentful of others. Nixon is long gone and Ailes is in the grave, but their political style is never going away. Almost fifty years on, Ailes' ads for Nixon are still remarkably and sadly relevant. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Episode 11 of the Old Dad's Records Podcast


On the eleventh episode of my podcast I discuss the Pearl Jam song "Better Man." I was inspired to do this after a night spent with some friends where we listened to an endless string of songs from the 1990s. I also dug out The Kinks' Low Budget album from my pile of old records. It's yet another representative artifact from "Reagan Dawn" culture. After that I recommend Courtney Barnett, one of my favorite new artists.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Message Democrats Need To Send

In the midst of the political chaos this week, I have been thinking long and hard about the 2018 election. Why? Because it should be blindingly obvious by now that Republicans will not turn against Trump. And why should they? They know with him in power they will get to build prisons, slash social spending, and cut taxes for the wealthy. Basically, they will get their whole program passed, and that's all these ideologues care about.

Trump's opponents need to stop wasting time trying to cajole these conservative true believers and concentrate on how to vote them out of office, the only permanent remedy available. Doing this is harder than it may seem, because while Trump may be unpopular, gerrymandering and voter suppression and low voter turnout in midterms make this a difficult proposition.

There's also the difficulty of messaging. The scandals play well with Democratic voters, obviously, but you won't get independents with promises of impeachment. The health care bill is massively unpopular, making it a much more fertile ground to plow in the election. However, this did not mean giving up on Russiagate.

The two can be melded very effectively. Democrats simply need to tell the voters that "The Republicans are not going after Trump on Russia because they want to take away your health care and give the money to the rich." That needs to be the mantra. Voters must be told again and again that they are going to lose health insurance or pay a lot more for it so that the wealthiest people get even more money. And adding that this is the priority, not investigating Russia, keeps that issue around in the minds of voters who care about it more.

If the Democrats really want to be daring, they should offer Medicare For All. That will free them from having to defend the status quo, and also offer something tangible that would greatly benefit the majority of Americans.

Contrary to what some might say, Russia and economic critique are not mutually exclusive issues. They can, and should be combined, and if they are the Democrats will have a potent message.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Blood and Soil" Is The Story The Media Missed In Charlottesville

The German-American Bund filled Madison Square Garden in 1939. Nazis like Richard Spencer are nothing new in America.

The neo-fascist (don’t call it alt-right) movement made some waves this weekend with their torch-lit rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was ostensibly in response to the removal of Confederate monuments in public spaces, but was obviously intended as a kind of neo-fascist show of strength. I have found the reporting of this rally rather curious, though. I’ve been hearing a lot about the crowd chanting “Russia is our friend,” but little about chants of “blood and soil.”

The latter is much more alarming and significant, and needs greater attention. In case you don’t know, “blood and soil” is translated from the original German phrase “Blut und Boden.” That phrase is a kind of bumper sticker slogan for Nazism. At its base Nazism contained a very particular idea of what constituted German identity and belonging, summed up in that phrase. Only those of German blood could ever be German, and those not of German blood needed to be expelled from German soil. Hence German Jews, who had strongly identified with and assimilated to German culture after their emancipation, found themselves murdered and exiled.

“Blut und Boden” is farcical concept, of course, because there is no such thing as “German blood,” and what constituted “German soil” was historically widely variant. That concept is equally, if not more farcical in the American context. The only reason to invoke “blood and soil” is if you are the kind of person who admires Hitler and wants to incorporate his ideas into American politics. Those people chanting it in Charlottesville are basically Nazis if they buy into it, and ought to be labeled as such. Richard Spencer, the leader of this rally, is himself essentially a Nazi as well.

So why are news outlets calling this a “protest” about Confederate monuments? This might be mostly due to not understanding what these monuments actually mean. They were erected after the violent death of Reconstruction, and are thus monuments to the glory of white supremacy. Many of the monuments themselves are direct enough to even say so. Some try to defend their continued presence as evidence of the past, but we certainly never had that feeling about the statues of Lenin that were toppled in the Communist bloc after 1989. We understood that toppling to be a symbolic blow against a repressive regime, and the removal of Confederate statues ought to be seen in the same light.

The neo-fascists following Spencer understand this meaning, too. They too perceive the statues as monuments to white supremacy, hence why they would be chanting “blood and soil” rather than singing “Dixie.” They are using the opposition to the removal of these statues to recruit garden variety racists and resentful white people to be full fledged fascists. (I am sure that they are also aware that in Germany, where Nazi symbols like the swastika are banned, white supremacists fly the Confederate flag.)

The media doesn’t know what to do with this, because, as Kelly Baker so rightfully pointed out, they have a misbegotten notion that racists and Klansters look like the characters in Deliverance, not well-dressed, well-educated people like Spencer. They also seem to be under the misconception that Nazis are fictional beings or somehow not part of America’s social history.

Sadly, out and out Nazis have been present in this country practically ever since Nazism existed. There was the German-American Bund back in the 1930s, which dressed up in brownshirts and swastikas and managed to fill Madison Square Garden. Openly declared Nazis also fought to keep Atlanta and Los Angeles segregated after World War II and threatened to attack the March on Washington in 1963. Gerald Carlson, an ex-Nazi, managed to get the Republican nomination in Michigan's 4th District in the early 1980s. (I only just discovered this insane fact.) David Duke (who sported a swastika in the 1970s) almost won the governorship of Louisiana in 1991.

There’s a crucial difference today, however, that ought to make us more, not less concerned. Namely, the president of the United States has people affiliated with the circles that Nazis travel in as his close advisors. Steve Bannon, a man openly inspired by fascist intellectuals, still has the president's ear. The president also came to power with the support of Nazis like Spencer, who the president has been unwilling to disavow. These fascists have always been on the fringe, now they are actually getting traction in the political mainstream.

Seen in this light, pro-Russia chants are meaningless compared to the open embrace of Nazi “blood and soil” language. We are in a very dangerous moment, and anyone who urges “dialogue” with these people or laughs them off or gives them a public platform is sorely misguided. Combat and only combat is the sole response necessary.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Why Comey's Firing Is The Third "Constitutional Crisis" In A Year

After Donald Trump fired James Comey, and then had the temerity to admit in an interview that it was, as everyone suspected, to end the Russia inquiry, there's been a lot of talk of a "constitutional crisis. I laugh a bit at this, not because I deny the seriousness of of Trump's action, but because we have been in crisis mode for quite some time.

The first such crisis came last spring when the Republican Senate refused to even consider president Obama's pick for Supreme Court justice, effectively treating him as illegitimate. The second crisis came after the election, when the candidate who lost by millions of votes was allowed to become president. The Supreme Court battle was a case of the Constitution being ignored, the election was a case where the Constitution appeared to be at odds with its intended purposes. And now, of course, we have a crisis where the chief executive is behaving like an autocrat, but his Republican allies are unwilling to provide a check on his power.

At base in all of these cases the issue is that one of our political parties is merely the vehicle for an extremist ideology that will stop at nothing to grab political power by any means necessary. This ideology is also not supported by a majority of Americans, which is why this party suppresses the vote, gerrymanders, harnesses gushers of dark money, and puts its support behind a nationalist demagogue who promises "jobs" while passing all the cuts to taxes and health care that they want.

Anyone who fails to understand the true nature of the Republican party fails to understand the current political reality. Those "objective" journalists who portray it as just another center-right political party are wrong, as are the radicals on the Left who treat them as one side of the neoliberal coin, with the Democrats on the other. It is not fear mongering to say that the Republican party as currently constituted poses a threat to the existence of constitutional democracy in this country, it's the truth. Democrats, radicals, and journalists all need to be acting under this assumption. Our three constitutional crises in the past year ought to be proof enough.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Kinks, "Celluloid Heroes"


I've noticed that the Kinks are disproportionately represented in my tracks of the week. Reflecting on that fact, I think the reason why is that Ray Davies lyrics and themes leave a lot more room for discussion than the music of most others. I am also a sucker for culture as social observation, and the Kinks did that better than anyone in rock history.

They started off as exuberant British invaders with songs like "You Really Got Me" that bashed and burned harder than anything that'd ever hit the charts. Then, in their 1966 to 1971 golden age, they got more wistful, less rocking, and more concerned with documenting life in postwar Britain than making music for a rave up.  After Muswell Hillbillies, however, they took a strange slide into a run of ill-conceived and poorly received concept albums. (They eventually righted the ship in the late 1970s with a string of hard rock albums returning to their early roots but with the commentary intact.) I am not a fan of these albums (few are), but the first one, 1972's Everybody's In Show Biz, has some standout songs.

Tops has got to be "Celluloid Heroes," which has the line that gives the album its name. In a rarity for The Kinks, the location is Los Angeles, not England, in particular Hollywood Boulevard. It talks about the Walk of Fame, but with a kind of Davies-ian melancholy as he discusses stars of yore. There's Greta Garbo, who later shunned the spotlight, and Rudolph Valentino, who died young, and those "some that you've hardly ever heard of." Their fame is framed as a struggle, one that took something away from them that they never got back. The goddess of fame is fickle, too: "Success walks hand in hand with failure/ On Hollywood Boulevard."

And it's at that point that the song turns. After reminding the listener of the price of fame, Davies pines longingly to be a "celluloid hero" himself, because "they never feel any pain" and "never die."The music lifts up to become even more anthemic, the longing palpable. By "celluloid heroes" he does not mean Errol Flynn or Marilyn Monroe, but "Errol Flynn" and "Marilyn Monroe," the screen personas that enamor us so. Deep down we know that fame does not bring eternal life and deliverance from personal hardship, but we also want to dream that it can, our modern, secular version of sainthood. I can't think of another song that says it so well.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My Letter To Senator Ben Sasse

Dear Senator Sasse,

I was born and raised in Nebraska, and am very proud of my roots in the Cornhusker State. As in your career, my professional life has moved me far away, to New Jersey in my case. Despite this, I still feel a very special connection to my home state and feel that I have enough invested in it that its representatives in Congress should listen to what I have to say.

When it comes to politics there is not a lot that we agree about. For example, I am a social democrat, you are proponent of unfettered capitalism. That being said, you strike me as an intelligent person with a sense of public responsibility.

I also know that during the presidential primary last year that you were pointedly critical of Donald Trump. I assume then that his recent action firing James Comey alarmed you as it did me. This was a naked attempt by the president to stop an investigation of his administration. This is an obvious obstruction of justice, and must not be allowed to stand.

At the very least, we need to have an independent prosecutor investigating the president. If President Trump is allowed to fire Comey without consequence, then we are not really living in a constitutional system anymore.

Democrats alone do not have the votes to get an independent prosecutor. It is now time for Republicans such as yourself to put country over party. The people of this country and the people of Nebraska deserve nothing less.

Sincerely,


Jason Tebbe

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Republican Blood Pact With Trump

Trump and Ryan have gone from adversaries to being as close as Blade and Striker

I have been saying for awhile, but today's Senate hearings confirmed it yet again: the Republicans have signed a blood pact with Donald Trump.

If you remember at this time last year, there was a great feeling of trepidation by the party leadership towards the Tangerine Terror. Few were willing to endorse him, many seemed to think him a threat to the party. At the Republican Convention last summer, however, the blood pact was signed. The Republicans realized that their philosophy of rapacious capitalism was not going to win them the White House, and that Trump's nationalism (don't you dare call it populism) would be their ticket to ride.

So we had the insane scenes of Ted Cruz, a man whose father and wife Trump had grievously insulted, carrying water for the Donald. In fact, when faced by evidence of Trump's wrongdoing in regards to Russia and Michael Flynn today, he preferred to grill Sally Yates about her unwillingness to enforce the Muslim ban. Trump insulted Lindsey Graham, and even gave out his private phone number, so people would harass him. He attacked John McCain over his years in a POW camp. While McCain has sometimes been critical of Trump, he still consistently votes with him. Reince Priebus went from having a testy relationship with Trump to being one of his biggest toadies. For the most part the conflict between Paul Ryan and Trump has disappeared.

Both Trump and the Republican leadership cannot survive without each other. Look at France and Le Pen and see what happens to a nationalist authoritarian when they don't have the support of a conservative party. Look at the 2012 election and see what happens when a Republican runs on supply-side economics. Their current relationship is one of mutual dependency. The Republicans need Trump to rubber stamp their horrible agenda, from destroying health care to ripping apart environmental legislation. Trump needs the Republicans to cover for this grifting.

He has not divested from his businesses. He takes many trips to his properties where the government essentially pays him for protecting him. He has brought his awful family in to feed at the trough. He has extremely troubling connections to the Russian government. While Trump is there to be the front man for conservatives, they in turn are honor-bound by their blood pact to defend him. They did their job today, and will continue to do so. Anyone who thinks that there's a smoking gun that will someone get Republicans to go along with impeachment is out of their minds. Without a win in 2018 for the Democrats, Trump could indeed shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without consequence.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Old Dad's Records 10 (Nighthawks At The Diner)


For my most recent podcast I picked a record that was actually pricey: Tom Waits' Nighthawks At The Diner. It convinced me to like Tom Waits, who I hadn't to that point, and it's been a source of comfort in hard times.

https://soundcloud.com/jason-tebbe/old-dads-records-10-nighthawks-at-the-diner

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Report From A Small Protest



Donald Trump is going to be right here in New Jersey this weekend at his golf course in sleepy Bedminster. That also happens to be just down the road on I-78, the closest interstate to where I live. I heard from my neighbor about a protest this evening where people would stand on the walkways above the interstate holding signs as the motorcade went by. Full of zeal and angered by today's health care vote, I decided to go.

Things were not glorious. My neighbor had to beg off due to child care responsibilities, and since Trump delayed his arrival in New York to engage in his frat boy smoker/signing party, the motorcade was not going to come down the interstate during the 7-8 bloc where the protest was occurring. I still went to the overpass closest to my house, off of Burnet Avenue, feeling an obligation to bear witness on this dark, dark day. After getting my kids fed I quickly grabbed some poster board and made a sign reading "Health Care Is A Human Right" with red and blue Sharpies.

When I got to the overpass, it was empty. I sat in my car for a minute, then realized I had nothing better to do. I've also never been the type to be afraid to be alone. During my single days I would go to movies alone, go to bars alone, and even travel alone. So I stood there by the chain link fence, the wind blowing hard an unseasonably cold. Below me the massive river of traffic moved, small cars buzzing and big trucks rumbling. A handful of people honked, mostly those driving over the overpass. At one point a Union Police cruiser stopped by me and I feared the worst. He asked me if my sign was a marriage proposal (obviously he hadn't read it since he saw it from behind.) I said no, and showed it to him. For a brief second I could tell he contemplated hassling me about it, but thought better and drove off.

After about ten minutes another person joined me on the overpass, friendly and sheepish (like me.) We talked a bit about the protest opportunities this weekend in Bedminster, but she did not seem that interested in small talk. Being a woman alone with a strange man, I totally understood.

So I stood quietly with the wind knifing me, somewhat hypnotized for the cars and trucks rushing beneath. I wondered if people could actually see my sign quavering in the breeze. I wondered if it mattered. And I wondered if I was just tilting at a windmill this evening. I knew I was right to bear witness, but on this dark day I was reminded yet again that fighting the good fight does not ensure a victory.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Billboard Top Ten May 3 1986

I tend to think of 1986 as peak 80s. It's the year that Top Gun game out, the most 80s movie of the 80s. It's before the stock market fall of 1987 and the ensuing savings and loan crisis and Iran-Contra Affair threw some cold water on the triumphalism of Reaganism. It also saw some songs that we still hear today. And now, on with the countdown!

10. The Bangles, "Manic Monday"

Written by Prince, and it sounds like it. (That's a good thing.) The Bangles keep his patented bounce, but add a bit of their own flavor to it. From this song to Garfield, we really liked to complain about Mondays in the 80s, didn't we? There's just enough of an edge of melancholy to keep this song from being kitsch.

9. Phil Collins, "Take Me Home"

I'll admit it, I really like this song. I've talked at length about Phil Collins on this blog, because he is such an odd artifact of his time. A short, aging drummer with a receeding hairline who someone managed to make it big in the music video era. His best music, like this song, contains a surprising emotional heft. My understanding is that this is a song about someone in a mental hospital who is desperate to go home again. Collins is pretty good at bringing that tragic longing across.

8. The Outfield, "Your Love"
By this time in the 80s the rock music that made it this high on the charts was by fossils like the Stones (more on them later) or pop metal or, as in this case, a kind of sleek, corporate rock. It's actually a gross song about a guy who is going to cheat on his lady with someone much younger. "You know I like my girls just a little bit older/ I just want to use your love tonight." It's catchy and those chiming guitars sound great, but it's all background for maximum skeeviness.

7. Whitney Houston, "The Greatest Love Of All"
This was originally recorded by George Benson in the late 1970s. Here it gets the fully 80s pop R&B treatment, but with strings rather than synths. It's a shame that a singer as gifted as Whitney Houston was always singing songs with such insipid lyrics and treacly backing.

6. Janet Jackson, "What Have You Done For Me Lately"
Surprisingly, this is the first song on the countdown with that classic, in your face mid-80s production anchored by a gated snare sound and metronomic beats. This song introduced the new, tough Janet Jackson that would reach her apotheosis on her next single, "Nasty." It's a mode that really suited her, and the songs from it hold up pretty well despite the production.

5. Rolling Stones, "Harlem Shuffle"
At this point the Stones were completely adrift and almost broke apart. The production is ridiculously 80s, and Jagger's clowning is even more garish. The song is a classic R&B cover, the type of thing they used to do a lot on their early records, except those songs were actually good.

4. Van Halen, "Why Can't This Be Love"
This once great band, which had given hard rock a necessary shot in the arm when they burst forth in the late 1970s, and made of the great mainstream rock albums of the 80s with 1984 are now fully ensconced in their tepid Van Haggar mode. The Red Rocker lacks David Lee Roth's impishness, and Eddie Van Halen's guitar seems almost completely tamed.

3. Prince and the Revolution, "Kiss"
This song was a staple at the grad student parties I went to in the early 2000s. Much funkier than the other stuff on the charts, you just can't help shaking it when this song comes on. Prince's falsetto is also an interesting choice, giving his lyrics less of a leering connotation. As usual, when viewed in context of the other songs on the charts his hits sound that much more fresh and innovative.

2. Pet Shop Boys, "West End Girls"
I loved this song when it came out and I still love it. The sound is so wonderfully moody, I want to live inside of it. It's one of the few examples of the edgier music of the day actually hitting the mainstream. I will still put this on my headphones and strut languidly up Broadway on my way to work.

1. Robert Palmer, "Addicted To Love"
Hoo boy, this is the mid-80s personified, from the sleek as sleek production to the arty misogyny of the video to the love as cocaine metaphor of the lyrics. The riff is simple and repetitive, but former soulster Palmer gives it just enough grunt and sweat to make it acceptably down and dirty, the top 40 equivalent of 50 Shades of Grey, if you will.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Is The Cruelest Month, Baseball Edition


This baseball season is not progressing as I thought. While my White Sox are playing above expectations, the New York Mets seem to have been cursed by the baseball gods. Seth Lugo and Stephen Matz were quickly out of the rotation due to injury, and today it appears that the might Thor, Noah Syndergaard may soon be out too. In our arrogance so many Met fans scoffed at the earlier injuries, bragging about the depth of Mets pitching talent. Now that overconfidence has been broken on the wheel of the ever-capricious wheel of the pitching arm.

On top of that, the mighty Yoenis Cespedes is also injured, along with fellow slugger Lucas Duda. The team that I thought was poised to compete for a title just dropped six straight games at home in embarrassing fashion. Any hopes for contention seem to be dashed, but there's still five months of games to come that I will have to suffer through.

Oh, I have rooted for many a losing team before, to be sure. After all, I am a Mets and White Sox fan. However, when teams I root for have been crappy in the past, I pretty much expected it. Much worse is the cruelty of having your hopes up, only to have them dashed. That happened last year when the Mets lost their one game playoff, but at least I could be happy that my team battled injury to sneak into the playoffs. This year every game I watch will likely be tainted by the excruciating thought of what could have been. The White Sox have actually done this to me before many times in the past, like the time they signed Adam Dunn and he promptly had one of the worst seasons by a player ever.

It would also be easier to take if I already hadn't experienced a similar cruel crushing of hopes in the election last November. So in that sense the dull pain I feel on a daily basis in regards to the state of the country should prepare me for a similar pain when it comes to baseball.

For in baseball everything, including the pain, is daily. Your football team may suck, but its suckiness will only torture you one day out of the week. When it comes to baseball, the reminders are constant. On top of that, your team will win some games here and there, meaning that your expectations never truly fall to where they should be. Also, if you root for an epically bad football team, you can take a sheepish delight in the occasional win. In baseball even the worst team will win sixty games, so winning one does not bring the same feeling of release. It only serves to fool you that tomorrow will be a brighter day. In that sense baseball's illusions mirror life's.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Kinks, "20th Century Man" (1971 Project)


[Editor's Note: this is the next installment of my continuing series on the year 1971.]

The Kinks had an amazing run from 1966 to 1971 where their sound matured and Ray Davies' eye for the subtleties of postwar British society got ever keener. Their last album in that run in Muswell Hillbillies, which happened to be their first for new label RCA. (Unfortunately for their new label, they would go on a string of ill-advised concept albums after this point.)

The album is a return to the band's roots, name-checking their London neighborhood of Muswell Hill. The music is rootsier too, much like the rocking folk style that Rod Stewart was popularizing at the time. The best song by far is the opener, "20th Century Man," a rip-roaring lament about the bland, standardized modern world. At the start it sounds like something being played on someone's back porch before the drums and slide guitar kick in to give it an edge. The lyrics are a cross between Davies' nostalgia for a different time and punk rock disregard: "Ain't got no ambition/ I'm just disillusioned."

The song keeps driving, with organ coming in to give it extra heft, the faster tempo ever increasing. The whole thing is a rollicking rave-up concealing a social critique. It is a song deeply suited to the 1971 project due to its themes. The optimism and sense of utopia of the sixties are gone here. All of the attempts to change the social order appear to have come to naught. All that's left is a feeling of alienation and paranoia. It's a very typical feeling for 1971, and one that feels pretty familiar to me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Echo and the Bunnymen, "Pictures On My Wall"


There is some music that I associate so intensely with certain periods in my life that the flow of memories when I listen to it can be fearsome. One such band is Echo and the Bunnymen. Despite my love of The Smiths and Depeche Mode, I never listened to them until I started my master's program in Chicago in the fall of 1998, and only because a new friend turned me on to them. It was a very strange time in my life. I had been a stellar student in my undergraduate history classes, but the grad classes were very demanding and very difficult. While I had received a fine education at my undergrad institution, I had not been taught by historians who were in tune with the current state of the field. It was disorienting to feel like I suddenly wasn't good at something that I'd always assumed was the thing I was best at. This led to very high levels of self doubt.

On top of that shock, I was living outside of Nebraska for the first time in a big city, and living alone for the first time in my life to boot. Echo and the Bunnymen's first album, purchased around the corner from my apartment, was the soundtrack to so many dark and lonesome nights. There was something erie and new to me about being alone in a city surrounded by millions of people. In the rural town I grew up in those nights were impossibly dark and quiet, the sound of trains like otherworldly sentinels blowing their horns echoing through my window. In the city the sky was never truly dark due to all of the reflected light, and there was a constant background buzz at all times.

There was an eeriness in songs like "Pictures On My Wall" that spoke to me on those nights. In fact, I can hardly think of music more perfect for such moments. Nowadays, married with kids and a dog in a cluttered house with friendly neighbors, those moments don't come around so often. I listen to this song these days and feel glad that's the case.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trumpist Politics As Spectacle



I just finished teaching a class on World War I last week, and we ended with the last chapter of Modris Eksteins' Rites of Spring, wherein he connects the cultural modernism unleashed by the conflict to Nazism. Eksteins shows how fascism was politics as theater. Outside of its upper echelons its followers were drawn less by ideology and more by membership in a massive spectacle. In those torchlit parades and glittering rituals giving oneself over and turning off one's mind became a whole lot easier. The Triumph Of The Will is to this day a horrifying document in its ability to make evil seem attractive.

As I read that chapter I realized that a lot of people (myself included) who have discussed Trump in the context of fascism have missed the boat when it comes to this particular issue. I was suddenly reminded of the point when I realized that Trump's candidacy stood a good chance of succeeding. It was in September of 2015, when he gave a speech on the deck of the decommissioned battleship  USS Iowa. He did not speak for very long, and he did not seem all that coherent in what he said. The optics, however, were very good. He was positioned right below the massive guns of the ship, leaning over the podium with a red Make America Great Again cap pulled low. This man who dodged the draft bloviated about veterans, the subject of what he was saying, as always, more important than the actual content. Most importantly, he was shot from below, giving this ridiculous figure an air of command. In that moment I realized that the inchoate longings for an authoritarian ruler that have long lurked beneath the surface of American society could be called forth by this man.

Trump is described as a real estate developer, but he is in reality a television personality. His ability to manipulate the levers of television was his huge tactical advantage. He made himself into the spectacle that got the ratings, and so the news stations just aired his rantings unfiltered and unmediated. Too many journalists, happy to cash their checks, failed to take him seriously. I remember watching that speech in September, and Rachel Maddow cutting back in and laughing bemusedly at what she had just witnessed. Too many realized too late that, in the words of Morrissey, that joke wasn't funny anymore.

Trump's obsession with spectacle continues. He still attacks "fake news" even in interviews with the AP and other mainstream news outlets that give him a platform. In his most recent interview he has infamously gloated about how his ratings on cable news were the highest since 9/11. He has defended Sean Spicer's ineptitude by citing his "ratings" as well. He dropped the much-promoted "Mother Of All Bombs" in a military operation that was more spectacle that war. He has called the entire Senate to come be briefed by him in what is likely a photo-op rather than a national security summit.

However, I see signs of hope in all of this. Trump's main avenue of spectacle is indeed cable news, which would have been much more effective in the 1990s. Outside of a campaign, his rallies are only preaching to the converted. Trump may be trying to utilize politics as spectacle, but their effectiveness may have hit their peak in November of 2016. He has built a house on shaky ground, and it is our duty to provide the earthquake.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

We Need Social Democracy, not Sanders Worship

I'll take Bayard Rustin over Bernie Sanders any day of the week

There's been a lot of discussion this week about Bernie Sanders campaigning for a Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha who's sponsored mandatory ultrasound bills and other anti-choice measures associated with the most repressive conservatives. (This is different than maintaining a moral opposition to abortion a la Tim Kaine. If you think otherwise you are blinded by your adulation.)

I find this to be the most recent iteration of a deep problem I have with a lot of people on the left side of the spectrum who support Sanders. They are willing to compromise on or ignore the issues that matter very specifically to women and people of color. (Sanders is also soft on gun control, which is another issue.)  It is the same problem many self-described socialists I know have, whereby they think that if social class is addressed all other inequalities will somehow melt away. It is a narrow and dangerous way of thinking, and it is in fact quite insulting to the people whose grievances are going unheard.

I keep hearing people talk about the Democratic primaries last year as if the party apparatus itself stopped Sanders.

No.

He lost primary votes because he failed to appeal to the specific concerns of many voters due to the narrowness of his message. Most obviously, he failed to get the support of African Americans, who are one of the absolute pillars of the Democratic Party and its most loyal constituents. Those voters clearly perceived Sanders' inability to see their specific concerns as separate from his general bromides about the 1%. While he made efforts to correct this, it was too little too late. His recent support for Mello in Omaha and his assertion that Trump voters "aren't racist" pretty much shows that he is still trapped in a vision of social democracy that is race and gender blind.

We deserve better than this. As loyal readers may note, I have written for both Jacobin and Liberal Currents. I do not see a contradiction, because I define myself as a social democrat, and that is an identity in this country that straddles the line between liberalism and the Left. It's also one that leaves me feeling like a man without a political country. Sanders' message is inherently social democratic, but the cult of personality around him has sucked the life out of any true social democratic movement. Instead, so many people are hung up on supporting Sanders, rather than leading a movement of their own.

That must change, because Sanders' vision of social democracy is wrong and outdated. I want a social democracy rooted in an uncompromising commitment to the rights and dignity of all people. That means treating issues around race, gender, and sexuality with as much seriousness as economic ones, or, for that matter, not treating them as if they are separate, rather than intertwined. (I am not going to say "intersectional" because I want a mass movement on the left that does not resort to grad student jargon.) I appreciate that Sanders has helped popularize a more social democratic politics, but it is time for others to step up and for him to take a step back. If not the current flowering of social democracy in this country will wither and die.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Episode 9 of the Old Dad's Records Podcast, "Signs"



I finally got episode nine of my podcast up. I've decided to go "live on the nines" by having episodes about live music on those ending in a nine. This is partly because so many old cheap records are live albums, and thus deserving of a special place. In this installment I first discuss "Signs" by Tesla, a live acoustic cover of the Five Man Electrical Jam song of the early 1970s. Then I examine REO Speedwagon's double live album, Live: You Get What You Play For. It is one of the finer examples of the double live format, as well as a sign that REO were shedding their hairy hard rock ways for the corporate sheen and big bucks to be had on the FM dial in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971 Project)

The trailer makes the film seem a lot more action-packed than it is

I'd like to start off the 1971 Project with a cultural artifact that is highly emblematic of that year, Monte Hellman's film Two-Lane Blacktop. It came in that truly glorious early 1970s period when Hollywood, desperate to cash in on the success of Easy Rider and to appeal to the younger generation, gave a bunch of aspiring filmmakers money to make low-budget movies that did not fit the norm. It was something that hasn't really happened before or since, and for my money 1971 is among the most fertile years in cinema history.

The film's story is barebones. The Driver and the The Mechanic take their souped-up and stripped down 1955 Chevy across the country engaging in drag races, with very little to be said between them. Along the way they meet The Girl, a young woman who seems similarly lost and looking for meaning, trying to carry on conversation with men who only seem interested in their mission. They also encounter GTO, a middle-aged man driver the car of the same name, who engages them in a race across the country, each betting their car on the outcome. The Driver and The Mechanic were played by neophytes James Taylor (the folksinger) and Dennis Wilson (of the Beach Boys), and their acting, as wooden as the HMS Bounty, somehow works in this understated film. Laurie Bird, who would die tragically young, has a real naturalism about her. Warren Oates, a great character actor of the 1960s and 1970s, plays GTO with a cocky bravado that barely masks his deep well of sadness.

It is a deeply introspective film. As someone who has driven 800 miles at a time, I feel it captures that Zen-like feeling of relaxed concentration that one gets behind the wheel on long road trips. In Two-Lane Blacktop, that feeling of concentration also feels a lot like ennui, and ennui embedded in the world of 1971.

As I mentioned in the post kicking off this series, 1971 to me feels like the true sunset of the 60s counterculture. In this film The Driver and The Mechanic are still devoted to living outside of society, but they seem tired, and a little broken. The Girl has an air of desperation about her. None of these characters seems like they will last too long in the harsh reality of 1970s America. While they represent the counterculture, with their single-minded dedication to outfitting their own car and living outside of society, GTO is the avatar of American consumer society. He seems affluent, though we don't learn where the money comes from. Instead of putting his soul into outfitting a car of his own, he has merely bought the GTO, a mass-produced status symbol. While the trio of youngsters seems spent or lost, GTO seems spiritually adrift, and aware of the emptiness of his lifestyle but without a clue about what else to do.

Hellman seems to imply (at least to me) that America's soul in the early 1970s is empty. The old consumer values are rubbish, but those that oppose them seem headed for a dead end. Appropriately, the movie ends abruptly during a drag race, suddenly cutting out while the last frames of the film appear to burn up. The road goes on forever, as The Allman Brothers once said. Befitting a time of transition and confusion, there's no resolution in Two-Lane Blacktop, and it would feel completely false if there was.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Introducing the 1971 Project

It's been awhile since I've started a new running series on this blog, which is a shame since I tend to write better when I am thinking about a bigger topic than just responding to the events of the day.

I am a sucker for a lot of genres I should not be a sucker for, and one of them is the "The World In Year X" genre. After all, I am a sophisticated historian, and understand that historical events and trends very rarely conform to arbitrary dates on the calendar. That said, I find something satisfying about books that deal with a calendar year, especially baseball books. (At least a sports season puts greater ontological weight on viewing things by year.)

I am currently reading Heather Ann Thompson's deservedly lauded history of the Attica Prison uprising in 1971, and that triggered in me a long-held notion about that particular year. I now see it as the apotheosis of the 1960s in many respects. Not just the sixties as the time of radical protest and social change, but also the sixties as a time of resentment, backlash, and rise of the modern conservative movement. The brutally violent suppression of the Attica uprising, perhaps more than the Kent State shooting the year before, showed the willingness of authority to use its full power to destroy the voices of dissent. After all, it was in 1971 that activists broke into government offices and revealed the machinations of COINTELPRO.

On reason why I keep writing on this blog is that I lack the expertise, talent, and time to write books, but something in me compels me to keep writing. So instead of the book about 1971 I wish I could write, I'll be giving y'all a bunch of blog posts.


So I will leave this one off with "Can't You Hear My Knocking" by the Rolling Stones. It has an air of desperation mixed subtle violence that seems so fitting for the times. There's also an extended solo section in the middle, a sign of changing musical times for a band once known for its compact, explosive singles.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Palace Coup

In the Bible the people of Moab descended from the children conceived incestuously between Lot and his daughters. The MOAB name is fitting for another abomination.

This week saw maybe the most stunning presidential policy reversal I have witnessed. Just days after the Trump administration said that it was basically accepting that Assad would maintain his position in Syria, it ordered a large missile strike and started talking about regime change.

What happened, of course, is that we are currently witnessing a palace coup in the White House. Bannon and his ilk are being pushed aside at the behest of Ivanka and Jared. As I have said before, Trump is really just an old, mad king. He appears to be highly suggestible, and not quite in full command of his mental faculties. He does not want to govern, he wants other people to do that for him. That allows maximum time for television and golf. Because he does not take an interest in anything, he is easily swayed by those he thinks he trusts.

It was inevitable that Jared and Bannon were going to clash. Bannon is an anti-Semite, for one. Kushner is a fellow sleazebag, to be sure, but one gets the sense that he does not buy into Bannon's worldview, which is a mishmash of xenophobic French novels and minor fascist theorists. Throughout his entire life Trump has used people then tossed them aside when it was convenient. Did Bannon think he would be any different than Lewandowski, Manafort, or innumerable contractors? Like the mafia don that he is, Trump will protect and trust his family above all others.

Also, since he is ignorant, suggestible, and lazy, and Jared and Ivanka are equally inexperienced, Trump is now just leaning hard on the military. His statements seem to say that he will let the military leaders do whatever they want, and what they want, as always, is more war. We are killing more civilians and even friendly rebels because the generals have allowed to run wild. Presidents are supposed to be above the military, but Trump has basically let himself be their servant. Ironically, this man obsessed with projecting strength comes across now as a pathetically weak leader. He lets the leader of China tutor him on the things he should already know. He throws a temper tantrum and refuses to shake hands with Merkel. He is so clueless about war that he just lets his generals do everything, and he reverses policy because a different person has his ear.

It would be funny if it wasn't so serious. What scares me is that the current palace coup could solidify his presidency like nothing else. Americans have become so accustomed to war that those in the middle will rally around the flag if Trump makes a bigger military commitment. If you remember, Dubya was an unpopular president with questionable legitimacy until 9/11, and that coupled with the invasion of Iraq ensured his reelection. I fear that unless the pressure is kept on, Trump may well get away with recasting himself as a wartime president. Don't say you weren't warned.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New Essay At Liberal Currents


I had a very productive spring break. My second recent article, following the one I did for Tropics of Meta, is up now at the new site Liberal Currents. It's called "Trump's Jacksonianism And Its Needed Response." I've written about the current relevance of Andrew Jackson on this blog before, but this essay is a much more comprehensive take on it.

You should also check out Liberal Currents, which I think is doing valuable work in trying to wrest liberalism from its slide into an overly centrist position divorced from the concerns of its constituents. You may wonder how I can publish with a liberal site and with a socialist one like Jacobin, but I would say in return that I believe that the left side of the political spectrum needs a healthy dose of ecumenicalism. We'll all hang together or we'll all hang separately, y'all.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Memories Of The Joshua Tree At 30


It was a gorgeous spring day today. Due to the Passover holiday, I don't have to go to work tomorrow or Wednesday, so when I stepped off the commuter train into brilliant sunshine, I felt a brush of the divine. The long dark winter seemed to melt away in an instant.  When I got in my car, I knew what to do. I rolled down my windows, and fired up "Where the Streets Have No Name" and drove home with the wind in my hair.

I suddenly remembered that the The Joshua Tree turned 30 in March. Its music was some of the first contemporary music that ever meant anything real to me. The reason isn't a happy one, though. It was thirty years ago this April that my grandfather passed away, the first person I was very close to who ever died. He lived about thirty miles away from my hometown, in a tiny rural village that required lots of backroads driving. On the many days we drove back and forth from Hastings to Lawrence for funeral preparations, the funeral itself, and to check in on my grandmother, the radio in my parents' van seemed to play "With Or Without You." To this day I still cannot listen to that song without thinking about my grandfather's death. Even though it's a love song, it's one drenched in a sense of loss and powerlessness, things I was feeling very intensely in my 11 year old soul at the time.

It is very easy to mock U2 these days, it's practically become its own cottage industry. But in 1987, in the midst of the stasis of the later Reagan years and pop music and hair metal with about as much soul as a slice of processed cheese, U2 was a breath of fresh air. As insufferable as Bono can be in his constant political moralizing that lacks a proper level of self-awareness, after years of Reagan and Thatcher and the big dumb lobotomy of 80s pop culture it was exhilarating to hear the anti-imperialist critique contained in a song like "Bullet The Blue Sky."After years of Cold War bullshit, hearing a song about the Mothers of the Disappeared, their children murdered by regimes that had the support of the United States government, felt positively revolutionary.

The songs that were warmer to America (the subject of most of U2's music from about 1984-1989), were more inclined towards the places most Americans choose to overlook. I think here especially of "In God's Country," a wonderful evocation of what it's like to drive through the expansive deserts of the American west. In their video for "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" the band wanders around Fremont Street, in the seedier, now forgotten part of Las Vegas.

It took awhile before I was sophisticated enough to know that this album was reflecting my country back to me from the point of view of outsiders. That moment I think came when I was in college, when through my Latin American history classes I learned about the real Mothers of the Disappeared. It's also when this album took on another meaning. My friend Lorna really loved it, and back then, I had it on tape, a tape that pretty much lived in my car. On more than one occasion we'd be driving back to the dorms (I was one of the few car owners in our circle of friends on an urban campus), and she'd demand we drive around the block until the last song on side one finished. That song was "Running To Stand Still," a ballad ostensibly about heroin abuse. I hear it now, twenty years after those young and free days, and only think of the blazing fire of college friendships, a fire that lives on in my memory, a fire that those old photos on Facebook can only barely represent.

The Joshua Tree may be the only album in my collection with two such powerful memory triggers spaced ten years apart. It's a wonderful record and it still holds up. Forget every annoying thing Bono has done in the last twenty years and the fact that they put that crappy album on your iPhone without your permission. Give a new listen, and hear the dreams of a time not unlike our own.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Old Dad's Records 8: Bette Davis Eyes



Episode number eight of my podcast has finally dropped! The theme for this one is "Reagan Dawn," a concept I have discussed on this blog before. Basically, this is the period from 1979 to 1981, where popular culture has a foot in the seventies, but is looking to the eighties. I discuss "Bette Davis Eyes," Genesis' Duke album, and Tim Curry's "I Do The Rock," a forgotten artifact of that time.

https://soundcloud.com/jason-tebbe/old-dads-records-episode-8-bette-davis-eyes

Thursday, April 6, 2017

New Article at Tropics of Meta

As readers of this blog know, I have often talked about America's recent history as its Brezhnev Years. Well, I finally got off my butt and wrote about it for a better venue than this one. They published it over at Tropics of Meta, and I hope you check it out!