Saturday, March 30, 2019

Sleeper, "Inbetweener"

Because of an episode on one of my favorite music podcasts, I found myself revisiting 90s Britpop this week for the first time in awhile. From about 1995 to 1998 it was the genre of music I listened to the most. By the mid-90s the grunge explosion in America had devolved into corporate radio stations playing hour after hour of the likes of 311, Bush, and Silverchair. While I liked some of the more underground American bands of the time like Pavement, I found that whole scene to be exclusionary and too hip for me to fit in. For that reason even though I was going to college in Omaha at the time I totally missed out on the beginning of a great music scene. I was still a rural dork who wore sweatshirts and baggy light wash jeans.

Instead I gravitated to Britpop, something that only got more powerful after a trip to Ireland for a college debate tournament (told you I was a dork.) I heard the music in all of the pubs, and I picked up a bunch of British music mags. It was here that I learned about groups like Pulp and a pre-"Bittersweet Symphony" Verve. That same year Trainspotting came out and only cemented my obsession with the British Isles. (I'll admit, it's still one of my favorite movies.) I had also been primed for this by having been a huge Smiths fan in high school.

While Britpop's sound owed a lot to Johnny Marr's guitar playing, the songs were usually much more upbeat than what Morrissey and co. had put out. It's easy to understand how Britpop managed to cross over from the margins to the Top of the Pops. It melded catchy hooks with the indie sensibility, and so could appeal to serious rock fans as well as the kind of run of the mill people who care little about music but make the hits once their toes start tapping. However, apart from Oasis none of these groups had hits in America, despite the fact that Blur was a million times cooler than the godawful likes of Seven Mary Three and Toadies.

While some of the Britpop bands were at least known widely among American alternative rock fans, such as Radiohead, Blur, The Verve, Elastica, Pulp, etc., some are almost forgotten. One of these is Sleeper, whom I discovered with the free tape that came with the copy of Q magazine I bought in the Manchester airport on my way home from Ireland. The tape collected a bunch of live TV performances from various groups (including Oasis), but "Inbetweener" by Sleeper was among my favorites (along with a duet on "Waterloo Sunset" with Ray Davies and Damon Albarn.)

It's a tight, bouncy song with a bit of social commentary about bourgeois affectations. Songs about social class tensions are catnip to UK audiences (like Pulp's "Common People"), but that kind of thing is poison in America, where we pretend social class doesn't exist. None of Sleeper's albums are classics, but now that we live in the streaming, post-iTunes world where the single is king once again, their standout songs should be netting Sleeper some recognition. (Check out "Statuesque" and "Nice Guy Eddie" as well.) It's also kind of funny today in the midst of the Brexit fiasco to remember a time when such a phenomenon as "Cool Britannia" was a thing. Time's passage is cruel indeed.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Notes On A Trip To Pelham Bay Park

I am still on spring break, but unable to travel because my wife and kids are still in school. I have been recharging myself by taking a "staycation" of sorts in between getting the house organized and a head start on my school work. This usually involves taking the train from New Jersey to New York City and spending a day wandering around.

Yesterday I took a path I'd never taken before, in search of World War I monuments. I am going to be teaching a short spring session course on World War I and cultural memory, and I thought it would be great to take students to see some of their city's memorials. These monuments are so obscure that I realized that I'd never actually seen many of them. I started the morning by taking the 1 train from Penn Station to 66th Street. I sought out and found a couple of monuments in Central Park, one a memorial grove whose trees have not survived the ravages of time, the other a pretty standard bronze sculpture of soldiers charging.

The small scale of these monuments reflected that they were regimental in nature. I'd heard the biggest local Great War memorial was up in the Bronx, and so I grabbed the 6 train at 68th and Lexington. I deliberately stayed on the local, kicking back and reading a book and watching the people on the train and the Bronx pass by my window once the train crossed the Harlem River. I find reading a book on an empty local subway train to be remarkably soothing, it was about the most relaxed I've felt in awhile. I was traveling in that 9:30-10:30 sweet spot where the last rearguards of rush hour have faded away and there is a blissful stillness for those unchained by jobs to enjoy.

I got out at the end of the line, right by an interstate highway. Due to the decisions of Robert Moses and other planners to build highways along most of New York's coast line, it is a city oddly cut off from the water, despite being built on islands. I had to take a pedestrian bridge over the freeway to get to Pelham Bay Park. I was there to see the Bronx Victory Column, maybe the most substantial World War I monument in the city. It was easy to find, its gold statue shined bright, facing the highway.

The monument is in remarkably good shape compared to other forgotten artifacts in the city like the crumbling Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the aforementioned grove without its trees. Perhaps that's because the monument is borough specific to the Bronx, and thus something the locals can take pride in. It also might be just because it's located in such an isolated place, and so is not a target for vandals. I certainly didn't see anyone else around while I was there, despite the many inviting places to sit.

I was struck by the emptiness of the monument and the park. In the nation's most densely populated city, there was hardly a person to be found. I wandered until I found a path to the bay itself, since there was no signage to point the way. While sitting on a rock gazing absent-mindedly at the water somebody came walking by and I was completely startled, since I thought I was the only person around. On the way back I noticed an old brick wall, whose purpose I could not ascertain. There was a gate at one spot, but what had once been a path was overgrown.

I thought this made sense in light of the monument. World War I is an almost completely forgotten event in American history, but the people who experienced it thought at that time that it was the most important thing that had happened in the world during their lives. As we all know, a much bigger war was on the horizon, and one that provided an easier narrative of triumph for Americans. World War I killed millions worldwide and over 100,000 in this country, but it got lost in the shuffle. It's fitting that one of the more substantial monuments to that war is located in a place that few people ever go.

I took another lesson as well, that most of what we care about is pretty ephemeral. Some days that thought is a sad one, but yesterday under gray Bronx skies it felt comforting.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Nebraska Conservatives Voted Against Disaster Relief For Others

One of the more brilliant acts of political resistance in my home state of Nebraska

The flood waters in my home state of Nebraska are receding, at long last. Federal aid has been coming in, and I hope the rebuilding process starts soon. While I am glad to see this, I also feel like this should be an opportunity to remind the politicians of my home state to not be so stingy when other people are getting drowned. One time when I struck up a random conversation with someone in my hometown soon after Sandy that person had the gall to tell my wife and I that hurricane relief for New Jersey was a waste of money. This was not an isolated opinion. So without further ado, let's review the facts, and let's hope the people involved are called out for their hypocrisy.

Ben Sasse (current Senator)
The Senate's biggest prat of course voted against hurricane relief for Puerto Rico. He also voted against Hurricane Harvey relief. In both cases he demanded cuts for government spending before apportioning the money. This man who will stand on principle to deny help to hurricane victims also just recently voted against the resolution condemning Trump's abuse of emergency powers to fund the border wall. At the same time, he tries to position himself as a principled critic of Trump. This pretty much tells you all you need to know about Ben Sasse.

Deb Fischer (current Senator)
Fischer, who has a lower profile but is just as awful, also voted against Harvey relief funding. Back in 2013 she voted against Hurricane Sandy relief as well.

Mike Johanns (former Senator and Governor)
Johanns was in the Senate with Fischer in 2013, and he too voted against Sandy relief.

Jeff Fortenberry (Representative for the first district)
Fortenberry is known outside of the Cornhusker state as the dolt who tried to get a University of Nebraska professor fired. Why? That professor "liked" a picture on Facebook of a Fortenberry billboard that had been hilariously vandalized to give him big googly eyes. Surprise, surprise, this asshole voted against relief funding for Hurricane Sandy.

Lee Terry (former Representative for the second district)
When Terry first ran for office in the district that encompasses Omaha, he ran TV ads bragging that he had helped pass a local ordinance to ban young people from cruising in their cars. Somehow that unappealing, priggish message got him sent to Washington. Later on he ran an ad linking his milquetoast moderate Democrat opponent to terrorist beheadings. Terry too voted against Sandy funding.

Adrian Smith (Representative for the third district)
Adrian Smith is the representative from the district I grew up in. As a former student of Liberty University and a disciple of the Club For Growth, he votes like you would expect him to. He also voted against Sandy relief.


I lived through Hurricane Sandy in Newark. A man in my neighborhood died, as we were right on the Passaic River and the storm surge washed him and his car away. Those were some difficult days, and we had it pretty easy compared to a lot of other places in the state. But I have to say it hurt me a great to know that representatives in my home state would not vote to help us, and that total randos would feel like they could tell me that was the right thing to do. I am a bigger person than that, so I am not going to call for aid to be revoked from Nebraska. Instead, I'd like the people responsible for this bullshit to stop denying aid in the future from people who need it. And oh, by the way, they still haven't passed wildfire relief funding for California!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Old Dad's Records Tackles Spring Break

Episode #38 of the Old Dad's Records podcast is up! This time I talk about spring break songs. I departed from my format and picked five songs that I associate with this time, either because of their feel or because they remind me of spring breaks past. After that I discuss Solange's new album, the best of which sounds like an amazing cross between 70s Stevie Wonder and Brian Eno.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Take The 2020 Presidential Primary Pledge

Up until now I have been treating all of the 2020 presidential primary hype as an irritating annoyance. I've been muting the words "Beto," "Bernie," and "Kamala" among others for months on Twitter. It's the only way to make the site usable because lots of people have lots of bad opinions on the topic. I have come around to thinking that all the presidential primary hype is not merely annoying, it's actually extremely harmful.

One thing that killed the Democrats in the Obama era was the party faithful's focus on winning the White House while neglecting Congress and state-level offices. This meant that the Obama administration got precious little done, and that once blue states like Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Michigan suffered through the leadership of the worst kind of conservative governorships. Just think about the impact that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has had on the discourse, and she's merely one representative in Congress. Imagine the legislative agenda if there were a hundred more people like her in Congress from the the kinds of safe Democratic districts that she won. Getting a more social democratic system will only happen if things change in that way, the most lefty president will founder with an unsympathetic Congress.

This is a long way of saying that at this stage I do not give a single shit about the Democratic presidential primary. There are a lot of candidates I like, and some I am lukewarm about. Whoever they nominate I will be voting and getting out the vote for because to do otherwise would be insanity. Since I live in Jersey and we vote last, there really isn't any reason for me to even pay attention to all of this until well after the early primaries are over and my choices have been limited. What I want to do is to make sure more candidates like Ocasio-Cortez, Andrew Gillum, and Stacey Abrams get nominated by the party in the lower tier races. I want to make sure that we are fighting voter suppression on every level so we do not have more stolen elections. The groundwork for that fight needs to be laid RIGHT NOW. The Democrats may nominate your preferred candidate, but what does it matter if voters are kept from voting for them next November?

Let's stop wasting our time and resources. As the old saying goes, don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes. There is a time and a season for presidential politics, but that's a ways off still. In that spirit, here is a pledge I have concocted for liberal, progressive, and Left voters that I will take and I hope others take too.

I pledge:

  • To give campaign contributions to progressive Democrats in tight primaries in lower-tier races
  • To call my representatives (especially my Democratic ones) and pressure them to push progressive policies
  • To not blog, Tweet or post on Facebook about the 2020 primary until the Iowa caucus, and maybe not even then
  • To not get into pointless arguments on social media with partisans of other primary candidates
  • To not give any campaign contributions in the presidential primary, but so save them for the general election
  • To go to protests against the current administration instead of primary rallies and to generally prioritize political action against the current regime over pushing my favored candidate
  • To contribute and work for campaigns intended to combat voter suppression
  • To vote and campaign for the Democratic nominee in the general election and to bury any leftover grudges from the primary process

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Billboard Top Ten Mainstream Rock Songs, 3-13-1982

I'm tired and run down from this week but still in a mood to do some writing. I haven't done a top ten of mainstream rock songs, and so I thought I'd give it a whirl. It's also interesting to go to 1982, when what we think of as "classic rock" was entering its death spasms. MTV was a New Wave enterprise, and hair metal was just over the horizon. In the film Spinal Tap this was the year the band embarked on its disastrous tour, suddenly a relic. I can't resist narratives of decline, hence my side-interest in late antiquity and my need to observe my home country's current slide into oblivion. Now, on with the countdown!

10. Le Roux, "Addicted"

This band is totally unknown to me. The beginning of the song actually slaps, reminding me of "Shakin'" by Eddie Money. After that it doesn't seem to go anywhere, though. Like a lot of mainstream rock music of the time, it lacks the aspirations of 70s rock music, and just kind of sits there. It has elements of power pop, but not enough.

9. Peter Cetera, "Living In The Limelight"

I had never heard this song before. The drums are 80stastic and the guitar riff has overtones of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I half expected Dio's voice to come in after the intro. This is a million miles away from the processed cheese that Cetera would take to the top of the charts later in the 80s, and also divorced from his band Chicago's jazzy sound. Very strange.

8. J. Geils Band, "Freeze Frame"

Unlike some other folks on the countdown, the J. Geils Band managed to retool their sound for the 80s. The bouncy beat and cheery keyboards are steeped in New Wave. The song's use at sporting events has ensured comfortable retirements for the band members.

7. McKenzie Brothers, "Take Off"

There's a lot of Canadian artists on this countdown, but none more Canadian than the McKenzie Brothers. I am HUGE SCTV fan and so it made me so happy to see this gem on the countdown. And yes, I own the album on LP. I love that Geddy Lee lets his maple leaf flag fly, speaking in local dialect and being totally self-effacing. Musically this is just silly butt rock but I guess that's the point. SCTV's humor was usually pretty subtle and required knowledge to get the references. The whole Great White North bit was much less cerebral, and of course was the part of the shame to be the most famous.

6. Bryan Adams, "Lonely Nights"

Well folks, the smell of back bacon is still in the room for Bryan Adams. This song predates his mid-80s chart breakthrough. It does not have the hooks of a song like "Run To You" or "Summer of '69." The power-poppy sound is trying to establish relevance, but it just doesn't quite get off of the ground.

5. Aldo Nova, "Fantasy"

Believe it or not, Canada just bowled a turkey on this countdown. This would go down as Aldo Nova's biggest hit, and it translates some of the sound of early 80s metal through the filter of Toto-esque hard rock. The organ triplets behind the verses are very reminiscent of "Hold The Line." It's a trick producers of the time were keen to use, from Bon Jovi's "Runaway" to Starship's "Jane." I have to admit I am kind of a sucker for that sound. Also, this dude can shred.

4. Sammy Hagar, "I'll Fall In Love Again"

The man who would go on to ruin Van Halen and become a tequila impresario made a lot of mediocre rock music in the early 80s. This song is part of a pattern in this early 80s mainstream music with its tepid approach and boring tone. Who actually went to record stores and bought this crap back in '82?

3. Prism, "Don't Let Him Know"

One could ask the same question of Prism. I am more interested in the fact that they hail from, you guessed it, Canada! This record is produced within an inch of its life and sounds like something you'd hear in a Toyota commercial. The guitars and drums borrow just enough from metal to not make this completely unlistenable.

2. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, "I Love Rock and Roll"

Finally we hit a true classic. I remember hearing this song for the first time as a kid and the HEAVYNESS of the guitar just smacked me upside the head. Combine that with Jett's perfect sneer, a handclappy beat and a singalong chorus and you've got yourself a helluva song. It still makes me stomp my feet all these years later.

1. Van Halen, "Oh Pretty Woman"

Most of the "mainstream rock" acts of this era are pretty forgettable, but not Van Halen. I remember seeing an interview with bassist Michael Anthony, who described their sound as "Big Rock," drawing a contrast with both hard rock and heavy metal. What made early Van Halen great was that their sound was in fact pretty unique. They did not sound like the tired old bands imitating New Wave to be relevant, nor were they stuck in the boring hard rock rut. Their covers were always great because they could take that sound and wrap it around old songs and give them new life. This was a solid choice, since you could just picture David Lee Roth in real life pleading for attention from a pretty woman. Van Halen would crest in 1984, about the time that this kind of music was getting completely crowded out by the new pop.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Wilco, "Shot In The Arm"

I heard today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Wilco's Summerteeth. This news, of course, has me feeling like I am getting too damn old. It came out when I was living in Chicago and Wilco was playing local shows all the time. I still like to think of my Chicago days as my recent past, but they are actually now a long, long time ago.

That album shocked me when I first heard it because I had been there for Wilco's beginning when it was the lesser of the offshoots of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo. The band's second album, the masterful Being There, rocked out more and showed greater maturity, but it was still grounded in roots music. None of that could prepare me for Summerteeth, which completely eschewed any country vibes, as well as the easy-going humor of songs like "Casino Queen" and "Monday." Songs like "She's a Jar" and "Via Chicago" are some real dark night of the soul stuff.

It took a little bit for this album to sink its teeth into me, but "Shot In The Arm" was the song that did the trick. It has one of the great first lines of all time, "The ashtray says you were up all night." That one line tells a story, and it isn't a pleasant one.

It references lost love, depression, feelings of failure, and drug addiction ("Something in my veins/bloodier than blood.") Despite those themes it is uptempo and driving, like the manic side of a bipolar episode. It's song of someone who feels shot up and beaten down by life trying to maintain a sliver of hope about the future. "Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm"is an attempt at optimism in the face of crushing depression. I listened to this song a lot during a two-year period in graduate school where I frequently had bouts of severe depression. (Which I stupidly let go untreated.) I found the song reassuring, because there was someone out there feeling what I was feeling.

The song is also a little meta, with the repeated line "What you were once isn't what you want to be any more." This seems to be a comment on Wilco itself and the new music it was making. There is a kind of desperation on this song that perhaps speaks to Jeff Tweedy's need to break free from the limited musical palate he had found himself using. The band's next album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, would complete the process.

Above all, Summerteeth was Jay Bennett's showcase, more than any other Wilco album. "Shot in the Arm" is driven by keyboards and has the eerie synth and mellotron sounds that Bennett added to these tracks like a studio mad scientist. They make this rather catchy song considerably weirder, while adding to the emotional feeling of coming unhinged imparted by the song's lyrics.

Bennett was the friend of a friend, and I even got to have dinner with him once at my friend's house. I could tell from our meeting that Jay might have been the kind of person who was hard to work with, but he was also friendly, funny, generous, and full of creative energy. I can't listen to this song or the album it comes from without thinking about his untimely death, or that short time I got to spend in his presence. Wilco might be synonymous with Tweedy, but it would never have been able to reach its highest creative heights without the shot in the arm it got from Jay Bennett.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Requiem For A Small Town Book Store

This week I got the sad news that Prairie Books, a mainstay of my hometown of Hastings, Nebraska, would be closing. I had known this day was coming ever since one of the owners died back in 2015. His wife kept it going for four more years, but whenever I visited home I noticed that the store's hours had been cut back, never a good sign.

The store has been around in Hastings for over 40 years, there isn't a time that I can remember it not existing. It moved from downtown to the mall in the early 80s, in a sign of the economic times. It moved back downtown in the late 90s as Walmart and other box stores were killing the mall and the downtown was getting an injection of investment. The downtown now has some cafes, restaurants, and even a microbrewery, but retail is practically dead. Allen's, the local department store, closed everything but its grocery store this year, and Herberger's, the last general clothing store, also shut its doors. Walmart now competes with dollar stores, which have sprung up around town like poisonous mushrooms.

My hometown, like so many other small towns in the Great Plains, gets more and more hollowed out with each passing year. It's not just that businesses are closing, it's that these are businesses with real meaning to the community. Prairie Books has a "Nebraska Room" in the back full of books about the state, including a wealth of books on Native American history. Every time I have visited in recent years I have gone to the store to get a book, usually from that room. Places that have meaning for the local community are disappearing, replaced by outposts of corporate behemoths Hoovering up the money from Hastings and depositing it in the pockets of far-away stockholders.

Part of the reason I care about this is that I am cursed as an exile to be more invested in my homeland's uniqueness than the people who live there. But beyond that, I am legitimately sad at the loss of a place that meant so much to me. In my pre-internet childhood having a good bookstore in my small, isolated town was absolutely crucial. It was there when I was in the fourth grade and obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure books. When I became a fantasy RPG nut it's where I bought copies of Dragon magazine, as well as way too many Dragonlance novels. (Once I developed some taste I bought my Tolkien books there, too.) Later it's where I fed my Stephen King obsession in middle school, as well as my growing interests in history and science fiction. In high school it's where I started exploring heavier literature, from Conrad to Dostoevsky. I still remember the day I came in as a 17 year old and asked the store to order me a copy of Kerouac's On The Road. The owner of the store gave me a little smile at my request. While my teenaged love of that book embarrasses me a little today, that smile was probably my first clue that I would think of that book differently in adulthood.

When I was growing up the Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska's biggest newspaper, compiled a list of best-sellers each week in the state to run alongside the Times' bestseller list. The only bookstore in the rural part of the state they used to compile the list was Prairie Books. It made me feel like my town mattered, that we were more cultured than those other cow towns out on the plains. A lot things over the past three decades have shown my town to be just another rural burg getting hollowed out by global capitalism. Of all those things none stings harder than losing Prairie Books.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Bush-Era Prophecy For Our Times

One of the many bad things happening in America under Trump is a collective amnesia about the Dubya years. This country has a hard time keeping a grasp on the past even in the best of times, and now in our post-Trump social media world more and more is shoved down the memory hole.

One artifact worth resurrecting is a Ron Suskind article in the New York Times Magazine from 2004. The article is about Bush's "faith based" approach to governing. Back then Republicans still tried to portray governing from their worst gut instincts as piety. Trump of course, doesn't even bother, and his voters enjoy being liberated of the pretense of having moral principles. The article contained the following passage, one infamous in its time that has been mostly forgotten:

"In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.""

The aide, long rumored to be Karl Rove, baldly asserted that reality no longer mattered, and that the Bush administration simply created what was real and what was not. This article shook me when it was published, because it reminded me of O'Brien's interrogation of Winston Smith in 1984. This article was published a year and a half after the disastrous invasion of Iraq, which was sold to the public with lies and faked evidence. Now here was one of the architects of the Bush administration laughing about how reality was an outdated principle while people needlessly died for a lie. 

Despite the failure of the invasion and the lies that propelled it, Bush would be reelected a month after that article came out. Like much else, Trump has taken this central insight of the conservative political dark arts and has taken it to the extreme. His tweets and rants brim with easily disproven lies that he doesn't even bother to justify. And why should he? There is a gigantic conservative media apparatus ready to repeat his lies and millions of loyal followers online to spread memes forged out of those lies. 

Talk to someone who consumes conservative media on a regular basis and you will find the experience disconcerting. They might tell you that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to ban hamburgers, that there's Islamist terrorists pouring across the southern border, or president Obama was born in Kenya. These people live in a new reality constructed in the ways that Karl Rove described. Fifteen years later the tools to make this reality have never been more potent, and the president is a man who made a career of turning his time as a failed businessman into an image of success.

Another thing sticks out to me too, though. Suskind talks about "enlightenment principles and empiricism" as if they are any match for potent political myths. Liberals gladly called themselves "members of the reality based community" after this article, but failed to contemplate whether other people would actually be impressed by that. The solution is not to lie, obviously, but to build alternative narratives with mass appeal. Failure to do so will make 2020 a repeat of 2004.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Classic MTV Videos (Jackson Browne "Lawyers In Love")

I've recently had 1983 on the brain. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the dread I feel about the state of the world hasn't been this intense for me since I was an eight year old and learned of the possibility of nuclear war. We are also a year away from an election that the incumbent president could use to cement his harmful hold on the government. Back in 1983 I am sure a lot of folks thought Reagan was vulnerable, especially as his popularity tanked in the years of recession that marked his early reign. Lots of folks feel like defeating Trump in 2020 will be a cakewalk, but the lessons of the past should be on our minds.

In that similar early 80s time of dread and political backlash, Jackson Browne put out an album curiously titled Lawyers In Love with a cover that suggested a post-apocalyptic scene. It simultaneously spoke to the fears of nuclear war and the rise of yuppie culture in the 1980s. The video for the title track is in the low-rent style of early MTV, with obvious back projection, high school AV club special effects, and that grainy overripe glow of early video film stock. The images are surreal, from children space aliens to a besuited yuppie trying to row his Mercedes through water to stock footage of Soviet tourism films.

The whole time the main character, played by Browne, stays glued to the television. Like the rest of us, he is at the mercy of forces well beyond his control, numbed into passivity. There is an oddball melancholy to both the song and the video that seems pretty appropriate for our times. The music has high pitched organ and reverb guitar noises reminiscent of surf music with a kind of chugging 80s beat below it and the occasional yodel coming over the top. It's on a playlist I have been listening to a lot at night, when my worried thoughts get the best of me sometimes. It also makes me wonder if I too have become numb to how awful the current situation is. At least the video gives me a laugh.