Category Archives: Music

Now I feel light years away from the West side of Chicago

In this edition: Beware, The Ides of March and Progressive Talk Radio bids L.A. Goodbye. Bashir bashes and MSNBC backlashes. Berwyn!?!? The slow, loud fall of talk radio’s biggest d-bag.

L.A. Goodbye

Sunset strip and a field trip
Over to your hide away
Sunset Princess beckons and
We love the night away
Now I feel light years away
From the west side of Chicago

And as I board my plane
Something inside my brain
Hates to wave L.A. Goodbye

Written by Jim Peterik, recorded by The Ides of March (1971)

Read full lyrics here.

I recently wrote about the meteoric rise from local heroes to national TV for Paul Revere and The Raiders (and how the entertainment industry turned them from hopeful musicians to clowning TV “characters“). I also wrote about how The Box Tops were messed with and lost control of all their music and even their name. The Ides of March seem to be a different story–a garage band that was able to stay in control of their careers after having an early hit, “Vehicle.” True, they broke up and had a 17 year hiatus as songwriter and singer Jim Peterik went his own way, but they reunited and still play their hearts out with their unique blend of harmonies, horns, and soulfulness.

It all started in Berwyn, a suburb west of Chicago’s downtown. Berwyn is working class with a heritage of thrifty Bohemians and Chicago-style bungalows. Berwyn’s main drag, Cermak Road, earned the nickname “The Bohemian Wall Street” due to the large number of savings and loans located there. In true rags-to-riches style the Ides went from their parents’ basements in the mid-60s to local club success to a national hit that gave them a chance to open for Joplin, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, and other powerhouse groups of the time.

Berwyn_car_spindle_20070707Many in Chicago fondly (and many not so fondly) remember a Berwyn public art piece called The Spindle. The Spindle was a sculpture created in 1989 by artist Dustin Shuler consisting of a 50 foot spike with eight cars impaled on it. The piece stood in a shopping center on Cermak Road and was demolished in 2008 when a drug store chain decided they would better use the space and the city could not find the $300,000 it would have taken to move it. I think that sounds a little steep for the task, but I’ll leave the accusation of corruption to the dozens of others that make it!

Peterik also had a big hit with the band Survivor in “Eye of the Tiger.” He’s 63 and still rockin’ it, as a quick search on YouTube will show you.

Now if you weren’t 63 and rockin’ it, and you were trying to take over a country with your ideas, wouldn’t it make sense to silence the voices that oppose you in order to reduce the amount of education disseminated in other views? If you are a totalitarian government, you take over the media and make it “state-run” and censor the content. If you are running the show outside of official rule you can still take over the media and censor the content. And you would call yourself Clear Channel Communications.

In 2008, Clear Channel Communications was taken private in a leveraged buyout engineered by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital and Thomas H Lee Partners, another Republican-loving private equity firm. Thanks to FCC deregulation, Clear Channel owns over 1,000 radio stations. Most of the nation’s 58 strongest, 50,000-watt AM radio stations are either owned or programmed by Clear Channel and the content they provide is the far-right rantings of Limbaugh and ilk.

In something that clearly should be considered for anti-trust actions, the company owns both the stations and a talent syndication company called Premiere Radio Networks. Premiere syndicates Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Dr. Laura and others. They saturate markets with these shows and in small markets, provides shows like Limbaugh’s at no cost to the local station. The station benefits by not having to purchase or produce content in that slot, and the syndicate has committed to national ads that they play during the program.

Clear Channel does have progressive radio offerings, but they tend to be on lower wattage “sticks.” Wherever Clear Channel owns a big AM radio station and other smaller ones, it always puts Premiere’s Hannity, Rush, et al on its biggest signal. This puts liberal stations at a big disadvantage in virtually all large markets — where the real radio money is. It should be noted that in recent months Clear Channel has been relegating Limbaugh’s show to some of their lower wattage stations. The consumer outcry over the Sandra Fluke comments proved too much for the public and advertisers and his advertising base has dropped precipitously.

As of this week, it’s L.A. goodbye for Clear Channel owned progressive talk station KTLK at 1150am. In January it will be flipped to a far right-wing station format featuring hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and renamed “The Patriot.” L.A. will have multiple right-wing talk format stations, several owned by the same corporation.

Clear Channel is making similar changes in San Francisco, where Limbaugh will leave its KKSF-AM (910), and move to KNEW-AM (960) (in a downsizing move), and KNEW is being retooled for conservative audiences. The changes are set to take effect for the first broadcast of 2014. So well ahead of the 2014 elections, L.A. and San Francisco are both losing their progressive talk stations. It’s difficult to imagine that the makeup of these cities drives the format change–they are two very liberal locales. So we are only left with the idea that voices are being silenced. Other blue cities have lost their lefty talk shows, including Seattle, Portland Oregon, and Detroit though in those cases the stations had low ratings.

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Martin Bashir resigned from MSNBC after going too far dissing Sarah Palin. His utter contempt for her was evident and most would admit he went too far. But it was quite a Palin-stomping and in its own way, fun for lefties.

LB_RuleMaybe Martin Bashir’s rant is enough of a high note to end on, but I feel I should amplify. We are, regrettably, unable to cheer up by making a new Spindle featuring the sweaty carcass of a certain talk radio host and his co-conspirators. However, we may take some solace in knowing that Clear Channel Communications operated at a $424 million loss in 2012 (and around $200 million loss in 2011). Certainly some of this is related to the industry–consumers no longer have to sit in their cars to hear the opinions of blowhards–they can use smart phones or their work computers. But some of it must be related to the unwanted purging of advertising dollars Rush brought upon himself with his hubris in attacking a college-age woman in truly depraved fashion. Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke was the “Ewww Ick” moment of the century to date. I’m not sure how much money Clear Channel will be willing to lose. Maybe in the living rooms of Bain or Lee Partners partners they can just take a couple hundred mil out of a humidor or something and give it to a footman or butler to bank.

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Filed under advertising, Music, Politics, Social Issues

I once believed in causes too

Prelude/Angry Young Man

There’s a place in the world for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend, he refuses to crawl,
He’s always at home with his back to the wall.
And he’s proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost,
He struggles and bleeds as he hangs on the cross,
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.

Give a moment or two to the angry young man,
With his foot in his mouth and his heart in his hand.
He’s been stabbed in the back, he’s been misunderstood,
It’s a comfort to know his intentions are good.
He sits in a room with a lock on the door,
With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.

I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness & righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view,
Life went on no matter who was wrong or right.

And there’s always a place for the angry young man,
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand.
And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes,
He can’t understand why his heart always breaks.
His honor is pure and his courage as well,
He’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell!
And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man.

– Written and performed by Billy Joel, 1976

From the album Turnstyles, this Billy Joel song illustrates the watershed moment when sixties idealism became a “passing fancy” and the practical world reinstated its dominance. And of course, by practical world I ironically refer to disco and cocaine abuse. I’ll return to one of those topics in a minute.

Turnstyles was Joel’s 4th studio album as a solo performer. The high point of the album (for me) was New York State of Mind.  That song represents Billy Joel singing from his personal point of view, where others, including Angry Young Man and Say Goodbye to Hollywood seemed more aimed to the strictly commercial side of the music market. Joel’s (and much of the generation’s) transformation is seen in the album cover art (below) from his first solo album, 1971’s Cold Spring Harbor to 1976’s Turnstyles. Nice tie, Billy! You have to wonder what would have happened if Billy Joel would have had a career with thoughtful and personal songs, shifting his career to pursue private “vision” as Bruce Springsteen has done. Instead he married and divorced a supermodel, wrote some hits and some very disposable songs, whined about the media a la Van Morrison, drank too much, and stopped recording pop music for 2 decades (one album of classical music was released in this time, and several compilations that Columbia Records put together to fulfill Joel’s contractual obligations).

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Today Billy Joel seems to be in a pretty good place. But his career has to be characterized in the light of fighting back to find himself after selling his soul in pursuit of fame and fortune. Today he performs a little, writes for himself, lives a quiet life, and teaches in master class fashion. There’s a pretty extensive NY Times piece here.

And a video of the song:

Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind:

Turning back to the notion of an activist generation derailed at its peak, I cited two reasons: cocaine and disco. I guess we could add Quaaludes. Quaaludes were eventually removed from the market by reclassification as a schedule 1 drug, but I think their addictive properties were overstated–users felt relaxed, confident, and in love with the world and that’s a good way to feel. They weren’t for everyone because they were relaxants and some people were looking for stimulation instead.

Pot was the drug of choice for the later boomers. (As an aside, if my state legalizes marijuana then I’m pretty convinced that the boomers will revert en masse after 40 years of abstinence to the kind of stoned behavior that characterized the early seventies. No convenience store will be safe from the giggling, rambling, zombie-like crowds hunting for chips and a Slurpee while struggling to remember what they’d just thought of a second before.) Weed was supplemented by hallucinogenics like the mind-effing LSD and milder relatives like mescaline (from the peyote cactus) and Psilocybin (from certain mushrooms). But, as in the turn of the century, cocaine raised its wicked head. While snorting was the most popular ingestion method, the late seventies found highly addictive free-base trending. As a point of reference, Richard Pryor burned himself nearly to death in 1980 while free-basing.

At the height of this round of cocaine popularity, 10.4 million people used the drug (1982). Due to legal and financial difficulties, i.e. the cost of cocaine use was unsustainable, the number had dropped in half by 4 years later and continued to fall until crack’s rising impact around the turn of the millennium. Free-base is  high-quality smokable cocaine, crack is  low-quality smokable cocaine. “This round” refers to the way that cocaine use had first been rampant in the 2nd half of the 19th century. There’s a lighthearted examination of cocaine use here.

I call the transition period (mid-seventies to mid-eighties) the “Drug Wars.” Veterans will have experienced the high of being a part of a progressive youth movement that threatened to stop wars, promised to treat all people equally, and fought to protect the environment. Many will then have been distracted and derailed by the Drug Wars, and finally found themselves putting ideals aside to make their place in a world where the only valued ideals were selfish and capitalistic. That “capitalism rocks” mindset has guided us since 1981 when the great manipulator made his way into the big time and handed the country to the elites on a golden platter.

Today, progressive politics focuses on the Democratic Party, with the Greens considered as an afterthought. Both major parties were considered “establishment” in those days. Today, many progressives cling to the Democrats as the only hope, and anyone daring to call themselves a Socialist could be investigation fodder. Progressive Eugene McCarthy ran as an independent in 1976 and garnered 1% of the popular vote. Four years later Illinois Congressman John Anderson ran and pulled in 6.6% of the popular vote. Anderson had some appeal to progressives because he was a fiscal conservative and a social moderate who was bucking the entrenched power structure. The best the Greens ever did in Presidential politics was the 2.73%  Nader received in 2000 muddying the results of a contested election. While both parties today are far to the right of the establishment that the hippies fought there’s one thing that experience teaches us and that is that the pendulum always swings back.

As Woody Guthrie once called himself, I am, in the end, a “hoping machine.” I can’t affirm that this is the best way to be and I can’t deny that neck-deep in trials and tribulation I don’t cling to hope with a tenacity that defies reason. So while I struggle to live with the Republican-light sensibilities of today’s Democrats, I can still see that the differences between the two parties are meaningful. All change will be incremental. Obama wasn’t the Great Left Hope, but he was far to the left of Bush, the Destroyer of Economies. He put in for marriage equality at a critical time and it mattered. He accepts the drone war as necessary because he thinks it keeps us safer. He struggles to keep the safety net in place, pushes for access to higher education, responds to the needs of our fellow countrymen affected by calamity, and pushes economy-stimulating infrastructure projects with passion and impotence.

For a long time now, presidential politics has been plagued by weak candidates. Be it Dukakis, Kerry, Dole, McCain, Romney, or even the Gore/Lieberman ticket we don’t get the candidates that transcend the status quo. We keep watch for a lion who has the wits and charisma to shift society to the benefit of the 99%. Meanwhile, the Republicans continue to work to establish a theocracy, take food from the mouths of the poor and aged, make higher education unreachable for the masses, dodge fair taxation, and enjoy the only kind of government subsidization they can bear–the kind that benefits them.

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If you wonder how I got from Billy Joel through the cocaine epidemic to GOP bashing, I consider questionable segues to be the hallmark of these writing exercises. And while I may be a step late for this particular Internet meme, I can’t help but laugh watching Jenna Marble’s “Thanks Obama” video.

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What do you think about the IRS/Tea Party drama? I’d like to attack the issue from another angle:

  1. 501 (c) (4) organizations are social welfare organizations. Their primary purpose must be social welfare, not political campaign support. They are not taxed, and the donors do not need to be identified. The way to understand that non-disclosure piece is to think of organizations like NAACP and ACLU whose supporters might actually be targeted by nut jobs for reprisals. The courts have elected to protect donors in those cases. Today, it has become a way to pump money secretly into organizations that promote political views while stopping short of endorsement of a candidate.
  2. Why any political groups associated with the Tea Party or patriot groups are considered to be social welfare groups takes a pretty large stretch of the imagination. They are instead “dark money” groups (supporting both major political parties but mostly right-wing) that support not social welfare, but political issues. 501 (c)(4) organizations can contribute to Super PACs. Super PACs are a new kind of political action committee created in July 2010 following the outcome of a federal court case known as SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election CommissionSuper PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations, and individuals, then spend unlimited sums (over $800 million in the 2012 election cycle) to advocate for or against political candidates (as long as they don’t donate directly to the candidate). Super PACs must report their donors, but the identity of donors become hidden by virtue of the fact that the money comes from a 501(c)(4).
  3. It was not prudent for the IRS to single out the applicants associated with the Tea Party and to collect donor information from them. The only ill effects for those groups were slowed application processing. While the right over-reacts and over-acts with their well-practiced indignation faces the key facts are lost. First, it’s the IRS’ job to make sure that the groups are legitimate social welfare organizations. Second, the quantity of these applications ballooned after the ridiculous Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision that money was speech and corporations were people and scrutiny was warranted. And finally, starting with Newt Gingrich’s “reform” of the IRS in the 104th Congress the resources of the organization have been challenged and their ability to investigate reduced. So now they do what we’d want them to do-protect us from those cheating with phony tax-free status–and they get slapped down big time. I almost feel sorry for them.

 The right’s persecution complex is in full display, but the idiom “no harm, no foul” might be the best way to process this fiasco.

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Last thoughts. Where I live, in the Chicago area, we are seeing some pretty stormy weather. Even in the mildest of years the wind is something to be dealt with. Recently, I’ve noted a number of hats pursued comically by their owners as they roll down sidewalks and across bridges, and the public trash cans downtown are spiny with wind-mangled umbrellas. I recalled the Lou Rawls song Dead End Street and his monologue about “The Hawk,” and found this performance from sometime in the late sixties. The setting looks like Playboy After Dark.

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Will your tongue wag so much when I send you the bill?

In this edition: Hi, she’s dazed and I’m confused. TMI on my marriage. E-Z solutions to the marriage/civil union exchanges that frankly, I’m getting a little tired of.

Dazed and Confused

Been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true
Wanted a woman never bargained for you
Lots of people talk and few of them know
Soul of a woman was created below.

You hurt and abused tellin’ all of your lies
Run around sweet baby, Lord how they hypnotize
Sweet little baby I don’t know where you’ve been
Gonna love you baby, here I come again.

Every day I work so hard
Bringin’ home my hard-earned pay
Try to love you baby, but you push me away

Don’t know where you’re goin’
Only know just where you’ve been
Sweet little baby, I want you again

Been dazed and confused for so long, it’s not true
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you
Take it easy baby, let them say what they will
Will your tongue wag so much when I send you the bill?

— Jimmy Page, 1969. Recorded by Led Zeppelin

Were you aware that there were copyright issues related to this song? As the story goes, the song was originally written by a musician named Jake Holmes, an American singer-songwriter from San Francisco. Holmes released the song 2 years before the Zeppelin release. Jimmy Page had toured with The Yardbirds–which disbanded in 1968–prior to joining Led Zeppelin.  Holmes’ band had opened for The Yardbirds at a NYC show and Page liked the song so much he decided to “borrow” it. The Yardbirds performed Dazed and Confused in concert but never recorded it as an album track. He brought the song to Led Zeppelin’s first rehearsal and changed the lyrics and melody enough that he thought they’d escape lawsuit. The lawsuit didn’t come until 2010 (!) and was settled by the band out of court, to Holmes’ apparent favor.

Page had begun using a violin bow on the guitar strings with The Yardbirds and the song features his bowed work in the instrumental passages. In the early Seventies the song was a jam staple at concerts, played for as long as 45 minutes.

Holmes was also a jingle writer (owing to a career slowdown). He is credited with the “Be all that you can be” U.S. Army recruitment song from the late seventies and eighties as well as the “Be a Pepper” jingle co-wrote with Randy Newman in 1977. In the 1960s, he was in a folk-music parody duo with his wife and trio with Joan Rivers in the group Jim, Jake and Joan. The clip below is from a movie “Once Upon a Coffee House” from 1964. Holmes on guitar. Clean cut folk kids living at the edge of beatnik sensibility.


***** Fond memory alert ******

Driving with my buddy in my 1961 Pontiac LeMans convertible (probably worth a pretty penny today) listening to Led Zeppelin I on the 4-track tape deck. The car looked a lot like this:

1962_Pontiac_Tempest_LeMans_Convertible-aug3aBut

[shudder] And I return from my nostalgic fog…

The song portrays a “somewhat troubled” relationship where women are likened to demonic creatures but sought after anyway. I try to be a 70s guy all cool with women and stuff, but still, as I age, I fight the tendency to become more misogynistic.  One of my major influences in life is Joseph Campbell. He helps explain this:

“Marriage is not a love affair, it’s an ordeal. “

An ordeal in the sense of a difficult or painful experience that severely tests character or endurance. More like walking on coals than a walk in the park. Also from Campbell:

” Committing yourself to anyone, turning your destiny over to a dual destiny, is a life commitment,” and “In marriage you are not sacrificing yourself to the other person. You are sacrificing yourself to the relationship…”

And sacrifice I have (and I’m not so oblivious not to know that my wife would mirror this sentiment). So far I pass the test of character and endurance but I certainly wish it was all easier. Do we not deserve to have our relationships experienced as two pulling together toward the same end? Growing similarly, prioritizing similarly, valuing similarly, and enjoying our unfolding lives together? No, because that’s a bullshit self-delusion that defies any sense of realistic expectation.

Alain de Botton tells us the truth in Religion for Atheists.

“This is a particular priority for secular Americans, perhaps the most anxious and disappointed people on earth, for their nation infuses them with the most extreme hopes about what they may be able to achieve in their working lives and relationships.”

The author’s point in this section of the book is that devout Christian and Jewish marriages are entered into with the idea that there will be limited expectations due to the religious purpose of marriage, to assume an adult position in society and to nurture and educate the next generation. But secular marriage has the expectation of passionate adoration and unending interest and cooperation. Real marriages have friction and boredom and frequently include an underlying current of certainty that a different choice would have yielded better outcomes.

Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote these lyrics for Georgia on my Mind: “Other arms reach out to me. Other eyes smile tenderly. For that peaceful dreams I see, the road leads back to you.” Now that’s romantic hogwash!

 

I see an enormous irony that same-sex couples become so focused on the idea of marriage when I, for one, cannot dredge sufficient enthusiasm to recommend it to even strangers let alone friends.  I definitely have had a level of fulfillment as a father, and in many ways I’m well taken care of, but it seems like this could have been accomplished without the attendant sacrifice of my own best interests in the interests of the marriage. How much easier it would all be if I were incontestably driving instead of having the steering wheel of life slapped away from my reach.

At the same time, the opposition to same-sex marriage is all dependent on that one word, MARRIAGE. The word is shared by marriages performed in courtrooms and cathedrals. Ironically, Catholicism doesn’t have a Sacrament of Marriage, they have a Sacrament of Matrimony. And marriages performed by judges in courtrooms and by Justices of the Peace in Elvis chapels are rightly civil unions as they are established by civil law.

So how do we break through an impasse where the majority agrees to the idea of civil unions while at the same time many oppose same-sex marriage? Where civil union is considered to be second class to marriage, and where marriage is, unfairly I would say, co-opted by religion to represent church-based weddings?

Here’s 3 possibilities:

1. Call any civil law-based union a Civil Union and give it the same legal status as Marriage. (Instead of being married would a couple be considered unionized??)

2. Peel the word marriage away from its religious claims and consider church unions to be Matrimonies or make up a new word like “God-Cleaved.”

3. Stop worrying about that religious claim to the term “marriage,” U.S. laws are not established in a way that favors one religion over another or over no religion, and allow civil unions to be called marriages.

Of the 3, the last has the easiest implementation. I say we go with that.

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