The President’s priorities are wrong.

When kids are dying in the streets of Chicago, why is Barack Obama in Denmark trying to win the 2016 Summer Olympics for the city?  The president could do a lot more good if he stood at the very spot where Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old honor student was beaten to death and said, “ENOUGH.” Going to Denmark isn’t leadership; it’s salesmanship.  If Obama really wants to help the city, he should speak out against the senseless  and murderous acts of urban violence that are sending young Americans to cemeteries instead of universities.

34 students were killed in Chicago last year there were 290 shootings.  That number could be eclipsed in 2009.   Albert, was beaten with a wooden board, punched and kicked as he laid helpless on the ground.

Nothing the president says or does will stop Black-on-Black crime.  He could mobilize the armed forces and all the agencies of the federal government and it would have little lasting effect.   This is a problem far above  his pay grade’s ability to solve.  What Obama can do and should do is make it clear that ending youth violence is a national priority of his administration.   Breaking up gangs and drug trafficking should be at least as important to Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department as investigating CIA officials.

Something can be done to staunch the flow of blood in the street.   The responsibility to interrupt the endless cycle of dreams dying prematurely rests with every one and any one.   There’s not much anyone can do if one kid gets it in his head that he’s been “disrespected,”  and picks up a gun  or other weapon in pursuit of some small and meaningless degree of payback.

But anyone who sees youths at risk can take a stand to not be a passive observer.   There are mentoring and tutoring programs that need mentors and tutors. Kids need responsible role modes, community support and a commitment by elected officials to pursue not merely reactive police solutions, but proactive policies and best practices designed to aid at-risk children.   And yes, some of this will cost money, but getting serious about crime, poverty, hopelessness and violence is not a cheap or easy fix.

DerrionAlbertMurder

It begins in home with families, but there is a role for elected leadership and on the issue of Black-on-Black crime, the president is missing in action.  Admonishments to “turn off the TV and read to your kids” is cool in a feel good, positive reinforcement kind of way, but what good does that do when the teenagers arrested in Derrion Albert’s murder are too far gone for that?

Not all the powers of the bully pulpit can reach the acidic hatred that burns in the heart of young men who would beat and kick a defenseless teenage while he lies bleeding and broken on the ground.   But it must start somewhere and the first Black President of the United States telling young Black people their lives matter and have value would be a powerful first step.

Some might say, “It’s not the job of the President to speak out about ever act of crime and violence,” and I would normally agree.  It’s not his job to jet off across the pond to bring the Olympics to his home city either.   Obama bringing the Olympics to Chicago will benefit the city in the long run.  Taking a forceful stand against Black kids killing each other will benefit the city now.

It’s too late to save Derrion Albert.  His life came to a premature end face down in a street as he was walking home from school.   Stories like this are common ones in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Atlanta and everywhere else where anger rules over reason and hands clenched in rage are seen more than hands extended in brotherhood.

We can blame violent, misogynist rap music and thug “culture.”  We can blame broken families and skewed value systems.   We can blame the rank stupidity of  the “stop snitching” philosophy where it’s better to protect the perpetrators of crime than those charged to fight crime.  We can blame racism and poverty and lack of jobs, education and hopes for a better tomorrow.   We can blame all of those factors and more and we’ll have the satisfaction of being right.

What we won’t have is the satisfaction of knowing we’ve done a damn thing to change the status quo where 16-year 0ld honor students never make it to become 17-year-old honor students.

President Obama will speak to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as part of the organized effort to bring the Summer Olympics to Chicago.  If I were on the IOC, I’d ask the president, “Why are you here trying to bring a global event to your city when you have boys being beaten and kicked to death in the streets of that city?”

When Derrion Albert is laid to rest and his grieving family asks, “Where were our leaders when a child was killed?”  how will they answer?

When our children are dying, where is our president?   Where should he be?

What does it profit a city to gain the Olympics while it loses its future champions to senseless acts of violence?   Where are your priorities, Mr. President?

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Tough loss, good game, right direction.

It only takes a second to turn victory into defeat.

It only takes a second to turn victory into defeat.

The other day I saw the urologist and he checked my prostate.  Two days later, Brett “Satan” Favre stuck it to my San Francisco 49ers.   Guess which one hurt more?

You  have to handle it to Favre (really, you have to because he’s going to take it anyway) he can flat out stink or just look like an average quarterback for 59 minutes and 59 seconds, and in the last second he’ll find a way to rip out your heart, show it to you, stomp on it and spit in the hole. 

Any coach will tell you there’s no such thing as “a good loss,” but this is going to be a really tough week to get through because ESPN will be sucking off  Favre non-stop.  All things considered when the 49ers lost to the Vikings 27-24 on Favre (lucky? good) last second pass to WR Greg Lewis,  the initial crushing disappointment was swiftly replaced by a sense of accomplishment and the budding of potential.

Winning any game in the NFL is tough (unless the Cleveland Browns are on the schedule) and it’s even tougher to win on the road.   The 49ers lost their best player (running back Frank Gore) on their first play.  After rushing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns the previous week, Gore left on a cart with a high ankle sprain and didn’t return.   He’s out for at least two weeks and possibly more.

The Vikings probably weren’t stupid enough to think it would be easy, but they knew the Niners were missing the biggest weapon in their arsenal.   They probably relaxed just a little bit.   The Niners are a team that pounds the ball on the ground.  Their passing game is more of a rumor than a fact.

Since nobody is going to ease up or feel sorry for you in the NFL because of injuries, there’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself either.   The Niners held Adrian Peterson, only the NFL’s best running back, to 85 yards and no touchdowns.   Vernon Davis scored two touchdowns and finally looks like he might become the great tight end the 49ers thought he was when they drafted him.   The defense sacked Favre twice and intercepted him once.  The special teams gave up a kickoff return, but blocked a field goal and took it back for a score.

Then Favre parted the waters, pulled a rabbit out of his helmet and walked away with a 3-0 record. Now he’ll wait for the Green Bay Packers next Monday night and for  legions of sportswriters to slip on their knee pads and Chap-Stick. 

After the game, 49ers coach Mike Singletary made clear he wasn’t upset with his team’s effort. “I don’t want to see you looking at the floor! You didn’t steal nothing! You didn’t do anything wrong! We will see them again! In the playoffs! Hold your heads up! Don’t you look down at the floor for nobody! You have nothing to be looking down at the floor about! Pick your heads up, put your shoulders back and let’s rock!”

As Jim Mora would say, “Playoffs?”  A 49ers coach is talking playoffs for a team that hasn’t even played .500 ball in seven years or sniffed the post-season? 

Damn right he is.  As a long-suffering fan, I’d be happy just to see the Niners  finish a season with more wins than losses.  Making the playoffs would be like me finding Halle Berry and Monica Bellucci oiled up and glistening up the tree on Xmas morning.   Singletary already knows his team is green as grass, but he  has a nice blend of kids and greybeards to put them in the hunt.

There are  some guys who can make you believe that by the sheer force of their personality and confidence they can take bologna and make  it taste like prime rib.   When Singletary’s coaching days are over he can stroll right into his next career as a motivational speaker.   Like  President Obama, he makes you believe in possibilities when the realities say you shouldn’t.

Favre and Singletary shake hands on a rematch in January.

Favre and Singletary shake hands on a rematch in January.

Will the Niners see the Vikings again in the playoffs?  Yes.  Definitely.   But Singletary left himself some wiggle room.  He never said it would be this season. 

The 49ers aren’t a very talented team.  They don’t have much of a pass rush.  Their wide receivers are either too young and inexperienced or too old and running on fumes.   The offense line plays okay one game and like dog crap the next.  Their starting quarterback, Shaun Hill, is only a few seasons removed from formerly being the third-stringer for the Vikings.   Without Gore and All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis on defense, the Niners are far from an elite team.

The Niners will lose more games before the season ends especially when they give a grizzled old gunslinger like Favre a last shot.  Still, with the incredibly intense Singletary and his laser-like focus running the show, I never expect them to loaf on the field or give less than maximum effort in every game.   Other teams have far more talent.  Nobody else has an old school coach who despises players who don’t respect their own ability or the game they play.

I do believe.  Not that the 49ers will make it to the playoffs, but that there’s the chance they might.  They finally have the  leadership on the field and sidelines that can take them there  (the less said about the front office, the better).   A chance isn’t much to hang on to, but it’s been a long time since there was even that much.

Which is yet another reason I don’t care if Michael Crabtree ever suits up in those pretty crimson and gold uniforms.

Streisand sings jazz? Now this I gotta hear.

What Barbara wants, Barbara gets.  She wants to sing jazz.

What Barbra wants, Barbra gets. She wants to sing jazz.

I’m a big fan of Barbra Streisand’s voice.  What I’m not a big fan of are  Barbra Streisand albums.

Streisand is blessed with what I consider one of the five best voices among female artists.  The others being Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, Oleta Adams and Tracey Thorn of Everything But the Girl if you were wondering.  One day I will make the case why Adams and Thorn belong on the list with their better known sister singers.

Streisand’s albums tend to fall into one of two categories:  bland pop music posturing and big booming Broadway showtunes.   Both styles offer snatches of beauty and brilliance, but it doesn’t always make for a satisfying listening experience.  While I admire Streisand as an amazing vocalist she seems to make great singles on otherwise mediocre albums.   Since Streisand doesn’t write most of her material she’s dependent upon the songwriters she chooses.  (I have a tough time believing there’s a producer in the world who could say to Barbra Streisand  “Here, sing this”).

Love Is the Answer (sort of a generic title, incidentally), is produced by Krall and she plays on it along with her quartet.  Those are red flags, but I predict this will be Streisand’s show all the way.   After all, who buys a Streisand album for the music?    It’s her distinct voice that’s the steak and the musical accompaniment merely the sauted onions on top.

Since I write about jazz  for AllAboutJazz.com, I asked the editor if the site had received an advance copy for review.  Apparently not, because Columbia doesn’t need to prime the pump for Streisand.  Her base of support is vast and enthusiastic.  If she wants to sing country, rap or the Manhattan phone book it will sell.   What critics think of her slumming  on the corner of jazz and ballads won’t affect the album sales one way or another.

I’ll  have to pull $14,99 from my own wallet if I want to review the album.  The last Streisand album to enter my home was my wife buying The Broadway Album in 1985.  Oh, the sacrifices I have to make for truth, justice and protecting the public from poseurs fakin’ the funk.

Streisand has been making records since 1963 and has dabbled with everything from disco to soft rock, so an album of jazz standards was probably only a matter of time.   It is a bit of a head scratcher that she waited so long to do it.   More likely than not Love Is the Answer is a one-and-done for an artist who is both blessed with a magnificent instrument and plagued by finding a suitable challenge for it.

Let’s put it this way.  Watch LeBron James going through the motions during some meaningless game on the interminable slog that is the NBA regular season and while he’s not precisely going through the motions, you can see he’s not going balls out.  If anything, James has to hustle just to keep himself interested when he’s playing against one of the many bottom-feeders of the  league.

Streisand can  probably identify with James.  Her own abilities so often overwhelm the material she has to work with and  it makes me wonder what mind games she has to play to keep herself psyched up.

Will Love is the Answer change my belief La Femme Barbra’s pipes or trepidation about the hit-and-miss quality of her albums?   I’m open to the possibility that it might.  There’s no possibility I’m going to change my mind that Diana Krall is an overpraised and underwhelming mediocrity.  Some things I just won’t give ground on.

When Babs meets Di things could go very right or very bad.

When Babs meets Di it's a legend and a lightweight.

Whitney and Mackenzie play the Victim Card with Oprah.

Whitney and Oprah agree Black men are wack.

"So we're in agreement. Black men suck."

We’re living in a time when nothing is anybody’s fault.  Whatever it is about your life that’s not right, somebody can be blamed for it.

Are you overweight?  Blame McDonald’s for making their food so appealing.  Got lung cancer?  Sue the tobacco makers for getting you hooked on four packs a day.  Lose your job?   It must be because the boss didn’t like you because you are a gay, Black female who is overweight and suffers from lung cancer from smoking four packs a day.

But when it’s time for a real pity party, you can’t beat Oprah Winfrey.  Not only can you cry her a river about how much your life sucks and she’ll provide more than just a comforting hand and a box of Kleenex.   Oprah will give you a national forum for your blubbering, moaning and bitching.

Seems that Oprah’s ratings have slipped a bit lately.  Maybe it’s a small backlash due to her public endorsement of Barack Obama during the presidential campaign or maybe it’s just a natural erosion of a talk show that’s been on over 22 years.

Either way, the “O” has found a way to juice up her sluggish ratings; provide a stage for drugged out divas and washed up TV actresses who have hung on past their sell-by date.   Whitney Houston, trying for yet another comeback, told the “O” how Bobby Brown abused and confused her and turned her life into a living hell.   Former child star Mackenzie Phillips stopped by the show to tell the world how her daddy liked to stick his penis in her.   Did I really need to know this?

It doesn’t take much to believe Bobby Brown is no fun-filled fiesta to live with, but then so it could be said about Whitney Houston.  Miss Whitney’s image was one of the sweet good girl blessed with superior vocal pipes and unlimited talent.  At her peak Whitney could sing the phone book and sound good.  But Whitney had her rough edges to and Clive Davis, producer to the stars and musical Svengali, spray-painted and constructed a clean-scrubbed, healthy and well-adjusted image around Houston that only every now and then fell apart and the real Whitney showed her face to the world.

Whitney and Bobby just humpin around.

Whitney and Bobby just humpin' around.

And a pretty face it was not.  Christopher John Farley, the former pop music critic for TIME said in an interview, “Now and again, you meet people who aren’t as interesting or as nice as you might have thought.  For example, Whitney Houston.  When I interviewed her some years ago down in Miami, every other word out of her mouth was an “F” word.  She cursed more than Snoop Doggy Dog…and then later, as your more untrustworthy stars are apt to do, she denied what she said to me in Entertainment Weekly.  Luckily as a journalist—if you’re a good journalist–you tend to tape your interviews, your big ones.   So I had the whole interview on tape, and I played it for anyone who wanted to hear it.  And that was put to bed.  Now and again you’ll run into artists like that who really aren’t like the public image.  That was not as pleasant an experience as one might have thought going in to interview Whitney Houston.”

I don’t believe Whitney Houston.  I don’t believe Mackenzie Phillips either.   Not automatically.   Not without something besides “she said/he said” or “she said/he’s dead.”

It’s not that I don’t think Bobby made Whitney’s life hell.  Their relationship was like watching a train wreck in slow motion:  horrifying, yet fascinating at the same time.   But how much of it was her own damn fault?  Did he hold her at gunpoint to record Something In Common?   I know it’s always cool to bash Black men for being emotionally and physically abusive and generally not worth a damn, but who made Whitney stay with Bobby?   Doesn’t her own sorry ass bear any responsibility for the crack and grass she smoked?   When she was sucking on that glass dick did Bobby make her do it or was she doing it by her own choice?

Mackenzie Philips: Daddy Dearest?

Mackenzie Philips: Daddy Dearest?

One Day At a Time went off the air 25 years ago and it’s been 25 years since anyone gave a shit what Mackenzie Phillips had to say about anything.

Now she’s got a book coming out.  Would you plunk down your $25.99 to read about her cocaine addiction?   Ehhh…starting to feel sleepy.

Well, how about if we sex it up a bit?  Daddy used to screw me.  He screwed me right before I got married. That cad!

It is an immense help that John Phillips is dead and can’t defend himself.  It saves him from issuing a press release nobody would believe.

Which isn’t to say I believe Mackenzie Phillips either.   I just find the timing of her revelation very fortuitous.   For selling copies of her shitty book that is.

I understand there are such things as ‘repressed memories” in women about sexual abuse.  As a victim of sexual abuse herself, Oprah has a soft spot for survivor stories.  I try to be skeptical instead of cynical, but I can’t help it when someone drops a bombshell about a evil secret from their path when they’re trying to sell a book or a record.

That’s when it looks a lot less like being a victim and more like just working on a hustle.

The natural inclination to a story like this about some innocent girl being raped by her degenerate father is something along the lines of Oh, you poor thing. I feel so sorry for you. You are so brave.

Because men are dogs, right? The little head does all the thinking, not the big head. If it moves we’ll screw it and if it doesn’t move fast enough we’ll screw it.

Because men are dogs. Dirty, disgusting dogs.

But what if John Phillips wasn’t a dog? At least not the kind of dog that would screw his own daughter.

What if she’s just trying to sell her book? After all, you can’t slander a dead man.

Sometimes when we give people the benefit of the doubt, they don’t really deserve it. I’m not saying with certainty that Mackenzie Phillips doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, because I’m not certain.

Can anyone say with certainty though that she does?

I guess since a real victim like Jaycee Dugard, who’s really gone through hell and back, isn’t speaking to the media yet, Oprah has to take what she can get.  If that means giving a has been actress and past her prime singer face time to blame someone else for their miseries,  that’s as good as it gets.

I look at these two b.s. artists with their sad stories and I don’t see victims.  I just see crybabies and losers.   But there is some educational value to be found in Whitney and Mackenzie’s “love me, I’m a survivor” stories.   Bashing and blaming men for all your problems is a fallback position that never goes out of style.

Another thing I learned from this soap opera?   There is no synonym for “misogynist.”

Living In (Post-Racial) America

I’m usually thinking about how to get some love for my blog, but I came across this cartoon by Barry Deutsch of leftycartoons.com and it just struck me as how brilliantly he tagged the absolute absurdity of the talk about a “post-racial” America really is. 

Barry’s cartoons are well-drawn and smartly written.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of his stuff in print sooner because it’s good stuff.   It’s damn sure on-point a lot more than some damn Doonesbury.

The Hating of the President.

Racism?  Where?

Racism? Where?

I once read a book entitled, Afraid of the Dark: What Whites and Blacks Need to Know About Each Other by Jim Myers and it got me thinking as to why does it have to be so tough to talk about race? Perhaps because most of us think we’re already expert on the subject and know all there is to know on the topic. Most of us are all wrong.

Here’s a passage from Myers:

The Mythological Sports Divide:

Blacks…………………………….Whites

fast…………………………………slow
foot speed………………………..brains
fragile……………………………..tough
showy……………………………..reserved
ornate……………………………..functional
high style………………………….low style
talk…………………………………action
individuals……………………….team players
slam dunk…………………………layup


That last one is still very true. I read an interview in Sports Illustrated with famed basketball coach John Wooden and he said while he wouldn’t ban the dunk entirely, he does like to see players miss when they dunk.

Again, from Myers:

It is likely, then that white Americans by the millions have never participated in a serious, intense, and honest discussion about race with a black person, because to most white Americans, this is a scary proposition. Most Americans remain wary about it, even if they also believe that blacks and whites should talk more about race.

Whites, in particular, fear that they may say the wrong thing—without intending to do so or knowing what made it wrong (This fear is related to the belief that black people are mysterious and unfathomable; you just can’t figure them out.) And when I ask black people how often they discuss racial issues with whites, most say rarely or never, another measure of the current racial dialogue. As a result, both blacks and whites often hold their tongues in each other’s presence.

For example, we know from polls that 57 percent of whites believe that “many” or “almost all” black people do not like white people—one good reason why whites might want to avoid discussions. But whites have other reservations, too. They expect the discussion will inevitably focus on black accusations against whites—and whites will be forced to defend the actions of slave owners and segregationists or admit some manner of defeat or inner failings.

Many whites look upon discussions about race as situations where whites cannot fare well, because whites imagine that black people have all the critical advantages:

* Blacks are better prepared. Race is their subject. They have all the expertise.

* Blacks have better arguments, involving obvious wrongs done them in the past.

* Blacks are more practiced at the passionate give-and-take of such discussions.

 

Part of the problem as I see it is that blacks and whites tend to discuss the same subject differently. Myers refers to Thomas Kochman’s Black and White Styles in Conflict which focuses on the racial differences in discourse.

“If black discussion tends to be loud, animated and passionate and white discussion tends to be calm, ordered and dispassionate, the differences are also in line with stereotypes we have about blacks and whites.”

“For many black Americans, a sense of feeling and conviction is required to convince listeners you are telling the truth and care about what you are saying. But many white Americans prefer calm, reasoned discourse and are uneasy when the discussion gets too heated. As a result, blacks can wonder if whites who try to sound calm and reasonable are sincere. They suspect duplicity; whites don’t seem to be saying anything they really believe in. Meanwhile, whites can worry that blacks who speak with passion are letting their emotions run riot. Maybe they aren’t thinking rationally. Maybe they will turn violent if they don’t get their way.”

According to Kochman, “White culture values the ability of individuals to rein in their impulses. White cultural events do not allow for individually initiated self-assertion or the spontaneous expression of feeling…because white culture requires that individuals check their impulses that come from within, whites become able practitioners of self-restraint. However, this practice has an inhibiting effect on their ability to be spontaneously self-assertive. Consequently whites find themselves at a disadvantage when engaging in debate with blacks.”nobama2

“Even when whites are a majority in the room, they believe that one powerful black speaker can negate whatever advantages number may bring. And whites are likely to be the majority in the room, a reality that plays out in most integrated situations whites encounter. And this, in turn gives blacks to be wary about joining in a discussion about race, for they can expect to be outnumbered by whites.”

“Outnumbered as they usually are, some black participants will wonder if it is wise to speak openly in a integrated discussion about race. Some blacks will decide that silence is the best option, on the theory that you never know how whites will react. Other blacks will choose their words carefully, opting not to say what they might have said in black surroundings.”

 

I emphasize that last part, because just as Whites often feel muzzled when they speak about race, so too do Blacks. Personally, I’m not shy about saying what I think whether it’s popular or not. I don’t see it as my job in life to make White people feel relaxed about talkin’ bout how they really feel. But then I don’t shy away from confrontation and I know mine are not widely shared sentiments. Most folks–Black, White and otherwise, would prefer to choke back what they really think until they’re certain they’re among friendly settings.

With the election of Barack Obama apparently a lot of people feel free to finally unload all their racist fears and paranoia they’ve been toting around.   The twisted part is if anyone says, “Hey, you’re being racist,”  their reply is to shout you’re trying to muzzle them with poltical correctness and suggesting any criticism of President Obama is racist.

I am far more distressed by the name-calling and the cartoons, and the death threats and the gun-toting and the disrespect that’s nodded and winked at as “a few extreme elements” at the tea parties and town halls than I am about whiny right-wingers or Keith Olbermann babbling about how there is no decency on the Right because conservatives won’t distance themselves from the radical, racist fringe.

I don’t know where ANYONE has said any or all criticism of President Obama has a underlying racial/racist subtext. I sure haven’t said anything that damn stupid. I criticize Obama myself and I don’t think I’m racist against the White portion of his DNA.

But I’m wary when racism is totally taken off the table as a prime motivation in the angry opposition to the president. Jimmy Carter may have used too broad a brush, but too many conservatives are whitewashing the bigots clustered among them and giving them political cover.

There is no “post-racial America.” The whole Gates/Crowley affair should have aptly demonstrated that was pure fiction. There’s just us. The 50 Divided States of America still fussin’ and fightin’ over the enduring problem of race after all these years.

There is  racism involved in the opposition to Obama. That IS a fact. There have been too many death threats, unfunny cartoons, bad jokes, insulting images, guns brandished, names called and ignorant insults to be written out as just isolated incidents by a few nuts and bigots.

There are legitimate concerns to be raised about Obama and the Democrats based upon differences on policy issues. That doesn’t begin to get to the essence of what’s going on in the heads of these folks that are standing up at town halls and marching at tea parties weeping and wailing, “I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK!”

obama_hitler_lenin

If you’re a Beck or Dobbs or Limbaugh it’s always two minutes to midnight and you’ve just awoken to hear footsteps creeping up the steps and the doorknob to your bedroom is slowly turning. These wealthy and comfortable men make their wealth and stay comfortable by scaring the hell out of people too lazy or stupid to think for themselves. They tell them it’s nothing that they’ve done wrong (except not vote Republican), but while they were sleeping “the socialists” took over and now they want to take your money to give to ACORN and illegal immigrants bleeding all over the floors of emergency rooms.

There have always been demagogues who have found receptive audiences when they tell them it’s not their fault their life sucks. It’s the fault of “those people” who don’t think like we do, don’t believe in what we believe in and don’t listen to rich guys like me who tell you how screwed up things are now.

Ever since the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the method employed to shut down discussions of race is “playing the race card” and it gets pulled by conservatives when they go too far in racial discussions.

Well, the Right pulls a race card all their own and they do it not to enhance debates about race, but to stifle it. 

So I’ll make it plain: everyone opposed to the president is not a racist.

But there are racists among those opposed to the president.

Can race be discussed sanely? Sure. Let’s grab a beer, shoot the shit and own up how screwed up we all are and how big our racial blind spots still are. Here in this vast, impersonal place all I’m seeing is people trotting out their “racial resume” as if to say, “See, I’M not prejudiced.” 

Still,  it doesn’t mean all that much if you’re telling your kids to be colorblind. That’s great, but if you tell them that at bedtime and by the light of day you’re providing aid and comfort to racists, papering over the gap between how you THINK race is lived and how it IS lived and believe being silent about the vast differences in how people travel along the color line in America, you’re not part of the solution. You’re only perpetuating and prolonging the problem.

The White Soul of Abbey Road

Though Paul is both barefoot and out of step, this is the last time all The Beatles would be going in the same direction.

Though Paul is both barefoot and out of step, this is the last time all The Beatles would be going in the same direction.

It sounds like the set-up for a joke.  Four men walk across the street.  It’s one of the simplest album covers in the history of rock n’ roll, but it became one of the most iconic images ever.   When the Beatles made Abbey Roadthey were barely functioning as a band.  For all their high harmonies  on record, by 1969 they were a fractured collective of individual talents rapidly disintegrating into separate camps.

Though technically speaking Let It Be is the “last” album, it was recorded before Abbey Road.  How fortunate that turns out to be because I regard Abbey Road as the Beatles very best recorded work.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bandor the eponymous The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) are the gems in the catalog that sparkle brightest in the hearts of many rock critics, but I consider them spotty and in the case of The White Album, bloated and excessive.

That’s not to say there aren’t great songs on those albums, but taken in their totality neither one holds a candle to Abbey Road. In part because it is neither a loose concept album like Sgt. Pepper or a  fractured mish-mash like The White Album.  Or maybe it’s so damn good because the boys knew the game was already over when they were making it.   There was always pressure on The Beatles, but John Lennon already had one foot out the door, Ringo Starr and George Harrison had both “quit” and come back, and Paul McCartney was trying to keep the whole mess together though it was like trying to hold a handful of water.

Unlike so many other bands that broke up bitterly and papered over their differences just long enough to put it back together and make shitloads of money from a “farewell” concert tour, when it was over for The Beatles, it was over and they closed the door, double locked it and threw away the key.

When I first bought the album on vinyl (y’know kiddies, those big black frisbees with the hole in the middle, kiddies, which if you accidentally scratch a frisbee is all it’s good for) I was both struck by how stark it was with no printed lyrics and only the bare minimum in credits, but how lush it sounded.    I’ve never believed in playing very good music on a really cheap stereo system and the music on Abbey Road with its harmonies, intricate arrangements, and creative instrumentation should demand being heard on premium equipment.

Which is why 40 years after its original issue, I purchased Abbey Road for a third time, once on vinyl and twice on CD,  but now with a bright and sparkling new digital remastered version complete with a mini-documentary,  new packaging with plenty of photos of the band (but still no lyrics) all in an eco-friendly package, which is a bit of a pain in the ass because they way the sleeve for the disc forces you  to pull it out with your sticky fingers.

The genius behind the introduction of compact discs wasn’t just in its superior sound to vinyl records, but the bottom line marketing magic that it compelled people to buy all over again albums they already owned. Time has been  kind to Abbey Road though.  Even the “throwaway” tracks such as “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” or Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden”  hang together with the classics like Harrison’s “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun” and Lennon’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

There’s no need for me to go through a track-by-track review of Abbey Road. Better critics than I have throughly dissected it and there’s a perfectly serviceable accounting on Wikipedia of the stories behind the songs.

Most bands there is no story behind their songs.   They write ’em, record ’em and that’s all there is to it.  Who gives a shit what the goofs in Kansas were thinking  when they wrote “Dust in the Wind?”

Falling apart, but coming together one last time.

Falling apart, but coming together one last time.

Something: George Harrison’s most successful moment as a Beatle has been covered by over 150 artists including  Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, James Brown (!) and Frank Sinatra, who called it “the greatest love song ever written.”  Sinatra being Sinatra  of course changed Harrison’s “You stick around now it may grow” to “You stick around, Jack, she might show.”

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer: McCartney’s cheerful ditty about a serial killer proves that in every band there’s a song one guy loves and the other guys hate.  Lennon called in more of Paul’s “granny-style ” writing.  Harrison dismissed it as “so fruity” and Ringo sneered,  “The worst session ever was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.’ It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for fucking weeks. I thought it was mad.”

I Want You (She’s So Heavy): After the overdubs were complete, this would be the final song all four Beatles would ever work on.   Another notable oddity was how the song abruptly ends as it builds in a looping crescendo of guitars, bass, drums, Moog synthesizers and a white noise generator.  According to the recording engineer, Geoff Emerick, the terse edit was at the instruction of Lennon.  While he and Emerick were listening to the eight minute long master track,  Lennon told Emerick to stop it at the 7:44 mark leaving the listener with sudden and complete silence.   It seems like just a studio trick now, but at the time when it was being played on a turntable, the abrupt finish was a minor stroke of Lennon’s genius.

Her Majesty: At 23 seconds, “Her Majesty” is the shortest Beatles song  (or more accurately McCartney and a guitar).  Originally part of the eight song medley that ends Abbey Road, it was placed between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam,” but McCartney didn’t like it’s placement and pulled it out.

McCartney told the tape operator to destroy the recording,  but EMI music policy was no Beatles recording should ever meet such a fate.   The song ended up as the album’s closer instead starting 14 seconds after the end of “The End.”  It became known as a “hidden track” because it was left off original pressings of the viny record sleeve because they had already been printed.  It is listed on the CD versions.

All this talk about vinyl records and album covers must seem quaint in the time of MP3 players.   Hard as it may be to believe though, there was a time when people listened to more than one song at a time and The Beatles were masters of both the single and full length album formats.

The Beatles Anthology documentary was showing on VH-1 the day the remastered Beatles catalog and The Beatles Rock Band video game were released and my 19-year-old son justifiably wondered why all the fuss was about a rock band that broke up so long ago.   It was my pleasure to tell him if there had never been a Beatles, I sincerely believe there would not be a music industry as we know it today.

Michael Jackson called himself the King of Pop, but The Beatles perfected pop music.  That doesn’t mean they didn’t have soul.  Not quite blue-eyed soul in an Average White Band kind of a way, but Liverpool White soul that you can hear loud and clear in “Oh, Darling”, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and of course, “Something.”    James Brown and Smokey Robinson both covered the song.   If that’s not an endorsement, what is?

Hey Paul,  who told you to shave?

Hey Paul, who told you to shave?

Cruel Summer

The movie fizzled at the box office, but could blow up at next year's Oscars.

The Hurt Locker fizzled at the box office, but could blow up at next year's Oscars.

Every year Hollywood unleashes a summer full of movies that are BIGGER, LOUDER and DUMBER than the previous year.  The need to constantly up the computer generated special effects and get rid of anything that smacks of wit, intelligence, plot, character development or simple coherence seems to increase tenfold every May through August.    The Summer of 2009 was one long hard slog through a whole lot of nothin.’

My summer movie experience ends and begins with two words: Star Trek.  I saw it.  I liked it.  But I didn’t love it and had no desire to see it again.   I did get a  tee-hee when some fool of a critic called Star Trek, “this summer’s Iron Man.”  Get real.  It wasn’t even  this year’s Tropic ThunderStar Trek was good, but it wasn’t anything I felt I had to see more than once.  While Chris Pine did fine stepping in for William Shatner as James T. Kirk, he’s no Robert Downey Jr.

Then again, if Star Trek is no Iron Man, nothing was this summer’s The Dark Knight Returns. Oh sure, a lot of films made money which goes to show even in a tough economic times people want to escape their problems for two hours in the dark.    There just wasn’t anything I felt I HAD to see.   People whose opinion I respect told me Wolverine was the best thing to come out of the X-Men franchise while others said just as strongly it sucked ass.

Now THIS is how you're supposed to reboot a dead franchise.

The same goes for Terminator Salvation, The Taking of Pelham 123 and Public Enemies as they underperformed at the box office and I never felt like I was missing a thing.  The Proposal and Julie and Julia are chick flicks, which leaves me out.  I don’t do Adam Sandler or Tyler Perry which meant somebody else could have my seat for Funny People and I Can Do Bad All By Myself and minus Downey, I easily could avoid Jack Black in Year One and Ben Stiller in the piece of crap he pooped out .  I did have a little bit of interest in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, but like the bulk of this summer’s fare, I figured I could wait for the DVD.  Listening to Brad Pitt’s weird Southern accent for two hours is going to take some preparation

As for the rest of the summer blockbusters–who cares?  I may eventually get around to seeing Up.   Everything I’ve heard and read about it sounds promising, but I’m not about to insult my intelligence with live action cartoons passing themselves off as real movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, G.I. Joe or whatever the book the new Harry Potter is adapting.  Haven’t read any of the books  and haven’t seen any of the movies so it’s all the same to me.

I’m not knocking Tranformers and G.I. Joe for being big, stupid movies.  They have no aspirations beyond being loud, flashy and making buckets of money for the studio.   That’s cool too.  I’ve been known to enjoy the occasional “suspend-all-disbelief-and-just-watch-stuff-get-blown-up-read-good” flick so I won’t criticize brainless and empty non-think entertainment for achieving their objective of being brainless, empty and non-thinking.

It does bother me a bit though when the best reviewed movie of the year, The Hurt Locker,  (a staggering 98% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.com) sneaks into town, plays for a week or two in one theatre, then–POOF– disappears like Eddie Murphy’s career.   Maybe it was the title.  What is a “hurt locker” any way?

Summertime is a cruel time for films with serious subject matter.   The setting for The Hurt Locker is the war in Iraq and that’s been a as much a wasteland for Hollywood as it has been for the United States.   Every drama that’s attempted to take on this war has died a quick death at the box office.  Despite the combined talents of  Tom Cruise, Robert Redford,  Tommie Lee Jones,  Reese Witherspoon, Susan Sarandon, Samuel L. Jackson and Charlize Theron, even they couldn’t put fannies in the seats to watch Lions For Lambs, Rendition, Home of the Brave or In the Valley of Elah.

 

Nope.  No acting talent here either, but my abs look great.

"Nope. No acting talent here either, but my abs look great."

 

Even more shocking is the realization that Meryl Streep, the Greatest Actress Ever, flopped not just once, (Lions For Lambs) but twice (Rendition).    What’s the world coming to when the Magnificent Meryl can’t win the hearts and minds of critics and audiences when it comes to the war in Iraq?

The Hurt Locker is a critic’s delight, but it’s $12 million take at the box office makes it commerically a  non-entity.   Don’t be surprised though if it earns a Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.   With the category expanded to a silly “Top 10” the odds are good a small picture that is seriously good will be taken seriously next February.  The Hurt Locker is a stone cold, lead pipe lock for a Best Picture nomination.  You read it here first.

The way I figure it I’ll get up to speen on my summer viewing when the leaves start falling.  That’s when viewing Up, Drag Me to Hell, District 9, and Food Inc., will spare me the agony of reality TV and Jay Leno’s monologe five nights a week.

As for all the other flicks I didn’t check out at the multiplex, let ’em gather dust for a while at the few remaining video stores left and I’ll get around to them.   There’s always time to gawk at Megan Fox’s body while  gagging on how awful her movies are.