Monday, December 25, 2017

Why This Mid-Winter Holiday is Important

It is that time of year again.

That's right, this is when I say something about this day and its impact on what we do this day, every year.

About two thousand-some-odd years ago, someone may or may not have been born who, in his 33 or 34 year life span, inspired stories that inspired events that (long story short) created the world in which we live today. At one point, someone even decided to count the years from the assumed year of his birth. Somewhere in there the observed date of his birth was moved to coincide with a mid-winter holiday, and here we are.

In time, the traditions surrounding the celebrations of his birth became entwined with the traditions of the mid-winter holidays wherever it was celebrated, until now we have this crazy hodge-podge melange of traditions filling our houses and bringing people together. On top of that, other religions and cultures have made their holidays of the season more culturally impactful, and other traditions of the season have even been created in answer to this. And in addition, the traditions around this season have become the greatest engine for consumption and economic activity in history (maybe. It sure feels that way. Someone else can do the math).

But more important than all this is the fact that, despite the economic impact, despite the lack of connection in the popular imagination with the sources of the many traditions that have been integrated into today's festivities, in spite of the fact that there are some who specifically have different traditions in this season, there is one through-line in all of it.

This is the time when we all are culturally obliged to forget our differences. We are encouraged to come together and be nice to each other.

If only we had more opportunities like that.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Poetry in the Age of Trump: The 7 Words the CDC Can't Say.

The following poem is in response to the news item covered in these reports:
Word ban at CDC includes 'vulnerable,' 'fetus,' 'transgender'
Holy fracking shit and piss. What the actual fuck is this?
Disease control requires words of precision,
Regardless of whether they are above the president's derision.
If "diversity" is not a thing you can say,
What is you need a variety of foods in a day?
"Entitlements" exist, for rich and for poor,
They won't go away just for wishing they were no more.
"Transgender" is a thing, I know several of them.
Believe it or not, there are things we can learn from them.
"Science-based" and "evidence-based" now has to go through community standards?
What if the community is wrong, you bastards.
If you cannot use the word "fetus,"
Tell me what is coming out of that woman's anus?
"Vulnerable" is maybe the most important word
The CDC can say, of all those that are heard.
Diseases attack, they prey and they kill.
They need controlling, or we all will be ill.
We are all vulnerable, some more than others,
And targeting is necessary to protect fathers, children, mothers.
So if someone is at risk, why should you not say
What means exactly that every single day?

My gosh and my god what are they thinking?
What are they smoking, what are they drinking?
Does everyone really need something to hate?
We are all going to die, sooner or late.
If someone is trying to help us live longer,
Shouldn't we be trying to make their work stronger?

Now if you don't trust "science," consider this:
How do they analyze what's in your piss?
Do you like cell phones, watches, and cars?
Do you like to take airplanes to travel far?
Do you like rayon and nylon and plastic and glue?
Do you like Vibram soles on the bottom of your shoe?
The device you read this on, do you like it well?
Did you grow up with Atari or toys from Mattel?
Does your camera take pictures, either digital or film?
Do you wear bifocals, use lotion on your skin?
Do you take medicine for a headache or cold?
Do you take a pill for an erection when you get old?
All those are things science has done for you.
But don't just trust me, you know this is true.

So if you don't like science, go live in a tent
Without central heating, air, or a vent.
Don't bother with soap, eat whatever you choose,
And there won't be a single tool you can use.
If after all that, you still will not give
A dollar to science that helps people live,
Then get out of that office you moved into not long ago,
Get on your feet and walk to Mar-A-Lago.

So if you want to go to the moon, you and VP Pence,
There's only one way to do it: It's called SCIENCE!

Now if you think you have something to say,
Say it in verse. Here, that is the way.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Petain and Laval on Broadway

This is NOT a post about Confederate statues. It is about the news that the Mayor of NYC wants to remove the line on Broadway commemorating Philippe Petain's ticker-tape parade on Broadway many years ago. The news report described him as "Nazi collaborator."

For those who don't know, Petain was the leader of France when they signed the armistice with Germany in 1940 that ended hostilities between the two countries (it was not a capitulation. It was more like what we have in Korea, where diplomats talked every day to come up with a permanent settlement. Of course the terms were dictated by Nazi Germany, but it did give France a degree of autonomy, as well as letting France keep its colonies, enough military to defend them, and its navy).

Up until the Germans took over the entire country after the North African invasion in 1942, Petain oversaw a new France, and resisted re-entering the war on the side of the axis. Of course France also rounded up thousands of Jews and delivered them to the Nazis tender care without the help of a single German. The bottom line is that it was a shameful episode in the history of France, brightened only by the facts that Paris, and most of France, escaped the devastation that happened to Poland and the Soviet Union, and that another Frenchman, Charles deGaulle, led "Free France," a resistance movement that wound up maintaining French sovereignty and getting it it the front row of allied nations by the end of the war.

Petain was tried and convicted of treason and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted by deGaulle to life imprisonment. He had been the "Hero of Verdun," savior of France in The Great War. He had dedicated his life to France, and when he found himself in the driver's seat of the nation as the military situation in France appeared to be worse and worse every day, he did what he thought was best to save the nation. Whether or not he was right really depends on your priorities and view of history.

He marched on Broadway on October 26, 1931, just four days after Pierre Laval, who was Premiere of France at the time.

Laval was an opportunistic, antisemitic, collaborating weasel who gave Germany almost everything he thought they would want. He was tried for treason and executed.

Both of these men have lines on Broadway commemorating their 1931 ticker-tape parades. So do Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam, and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Empress Farah of Iran. This is hardly a hall of honor of unequivocally admirable national leaders.

This week monuments to Confederate generals are being taken down as part of the fallout from the demonstration by Confederate flag-waving white supremacists, the counterdemonstration by those who oppose them, and the violence that followed. Now there is talk of taking away any "monument to hatred."

These foreign dignitaries did not fight to protect the states' rights to own slaves. They showed up in NYC in a period of time in which any head of state or war hero coming to NYC was a big enough deal that a ticker-tape parade was held. At the times in which they made their walks down the "Canyon of Heroes" they had not done most of the things for which they would become infamous.

For me, this is a reminder - a discovery, really - that there were times when certain people where considered admirable and even honored, but our city, nation, and world. A reminder/discovery also that people can make bad choices, or be in the wrong place, or simply be the wrong person in a place,even after being honored.

They were here. They are a part of NYC history, warts and all. There is nothing by their names explaining anything about them, good or bad, nor is there about any other head of state. Leave them there. 
PS: I just saw a commercial for Gabrielle "Coco" Channel. She was in France during the German occupation. She had close relations with high-ranking Germans, and tried to take over her Jewish partners' share of her perfume line.  Oh, the irony.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A bit of a dream of which I wish I remembered more

Last night I went to bet around midnight, which is a little early for me on a Saturday, but my GF was tired and so was I. At about 2:30 in the morning I awoke from a vivid dream with a very cohesive storyline. I ran it through my head a couple of times to try to remember it because I intended to get up in the morning and write it down. I fell asleep, woke up again some time later still thinking about it, then fell asleep again, had another vivid dream, and when I woke up the original dream was gone. I have a slight memory of what it might have been about, but the dream memory has been replaced by the later one.

I did feel that the later dream was a continuation of the earlier one, though. Here is how it went:

There was a guy, a middle-aged black man, who was a sort of mentor figure to the heroes of the story (that was part of the earlier dream). He hung out a t a bar like the kind you might imagine in one of those gritty New York City movies from the 1970's where Bad, Bad Leroy Brown might hang out. His enemies, however, had determined that he had interfered in their operations enough.

One day he was in the bar, at his usual seat, and he had ordered a hamburger. As he began to eat his hamburger, his enemies (who also looked like they came out of a gritty 1970's NYC movie) said something insulting to him or about him. He then proceeded to rip a car door off the wall (I don't know why there was a car door hanging on the wall). This proved his strength and how he was not about to take no shit. His enemies, of course, had a plan to attack him in a manner that he woudl not be expecting, but I woke up before actually seeing it happen.

In the previous dream (in my memory, and dream memories are funny, changeable things), there were two or three scenes with this guy in this bar, but there was also some sort of scene that may have involved some sort of quasi-mystical thing involving a lightsaber or something. this mento had a strong role to play in the guidance of the hero or heroes,, (one of whom ay have been me).

I really wish I remembered that dream. Next time I am getting up. To heck if it is 2:35 in the morning! I am writing these dreams down!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Justin Bieber on a Train

Having a day job and a night job some days a week, I have taken to afternoon naps. I just woke from one in which I had this entertaining dream:

I was on a modern cross-country train, like something out of the movies, in which I had a friend who was much like some sort of leading character in the TV show "friends." He was lean, had long-ish hair, and all he wanted to do was to get ahead in the world of celebrity fashion advising. He had an apartment in this train (you would cal is a "small studio apartment" or a "room" in New York, but it would be considered quite large by train standards. This was sort of what I imagine that 1979 TV show "Supertrain" would have been like) and we would sit talking about how life is betraying him.

For my part, I would up in another part of the train suddenly deciding (in a Brendon Burchard-inspired manner) that dammit, I was going to record something in the music studio. I had songs that needed to be recorded and I was going to share them with the world.

But as I started to had down the train to the recording studio, I came face-to-face with Justing Bieber. He said that he had just booked the recording studio for the next week to record his new album (and he was being a bit of a douche about it too).

So I sat him down and told him that I had a friend who could help him out. He had been worrying about declining popularity lately. I said: "I have a freind who can dress you in clothes that will make people stop and task 'who made that amazing thing that he is wearing?"

As I continued to talk up my friends fashion advice skils, I noticed that he was wearing a blue, short girl's top that was tight around the chest, showed his belly, and had short puffy sleeves. He was wearing something equally efeminate on his lower body. I figured this was some sort of retro-'80's madonna/Boy George kind of thing done awkwardly. This boy needed help.

So my friend appeared and stood before him as he sat on a large box or something and linked his fingers with Justin Bieber's, arms outstretched and palms down, as if he was some sort of messiah figure. He looked in his eyes and told him "I will find you the clothes that will change your life. This will be so good for you. People will want to wear what you are wearing and will be talking about it as they scream your name wanting to know what it is. This will be a start of a new chapter for you."

So we took Justin Bieber to my friend's room to discus this. Justin Bieber was totally enthralled. We got there and the room was a mess, the way a man's room can be a mess when he no longer has any care for order or hygiene and the word has gotten away from him. There were clothes all over the place the floor was nowhere to be seen, unwashed dishes and half-eaten food was present, the place was just a big, unholy mess. I explained: "He has been through a rough emotional patch lately."

As my friend and Justin Bieber st down on what I think was a bed, there were large, dangerous insects flying around the middle of the room, and one of them stung me as it brushed past.

I left the room and wound up on the sidewalk where I saw a bunch of comic-con cosplayers in G.I. Joe costumes gathering to wait for a bus. I said "There are insects in there that are big and nasty and have stingers with stingers attached!"

It seems that cosply was a big thing an a neighborhood newly designated as "Helio Sphere," although I was not 100% certain that that was the name of a neighborhod or something else. The neighborhood in questions was dominated by a tall tower with a round flying-saucer-type thing on top, sort of like those rotating restaurant sky-needle type towers around the world.

The crowd of cosplayers got larger, as there was some reason that it was better for them to be here on their way to whatever event to which they were going than anywhere else. I asked "Is Helio Sphere a neighborhood or something else?"

Right about then I woke up.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A slightly different zombie dream

I just woke up from a slightly different zombie dream. The big difference was that the zombies were not ugly, non-sensical, shambling messes. They were relatively intelligent and lifelike. Their faces around the corners of their mouths would turn dark and their skins would go pale. With a bit of makeup they could pass for living. When biting, they did not break and tear flesh(apparently). When bitten, the victim did not turn right away, but would go about their business and slowly start to feel the transition from human (wanting food) to zombie (wanting human flesh).

I was in a place where a recently-turned had made-up four of them to make them appear normal. I was even kissed by the gay one. Five people went in to take care of them, and before you knew it, there were now ten of them.

A popular trick among these zombies was to put themselves in body bags and get delivered to places where they would turn the unsuspecting people. I somehow got one of these "bodybag zombies" and tried to take it somewhere.

I'm not exactly sure why I was dragging this bodybag around, I may have been trying to get it to a place where someone could find a cure. I may have been bitten myself and was trying to get a cure before I turned completely. But everywhere I went, to a pool party, for instance, I would tell the people present not to open it. I would up delivering it to a hospital. I told the people there to be careful and not let the person inside bite them.

I think by the time I made it back to the street, the room to which I had delivered the bodybag zombie had been completely zombified and they were starting to spread out.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Chuck Berry just died at age 90.

Johnny B. Goode, man who rolled over Beethoven with Rock & Roll music, chased Nadine and Maybeline for 30 days shouting "you can't catch me!" to Sweet Little 16 back in the promised land of the U.S.A. during school dayz, the man who gave us the "duck walk," has gone, leaving us with a most impressive legacy: Rock n' Roll.

Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Little Richard; each one of these men were founding fathers of Rock & Roll, that defining turn of popular music, the blending of white and black styles that defined the boundary between Everything that Came Before and Everything that Came Since. Along with Chuck Berry, each one deserves a piece of the glory of being pone without whom, it would not have happened. Each one is unique int heir own way, each one with their own contribution, not just to the sound, but the spread of the music that was to define a generation.

The uniqueness of Chuck Berry's unique contribution among this pantheon was his songwriting and guitar virtuosity, which combined around basic rhythm and blues chord changes and country music brightness to bring something fun to the table.

Other music writes have, and will continue to write about his genius, how he changed rock & roll forever, how his white-sounding voice enabled him to get over on white radio, how many famous rock & rollers, from the Beach Boys to the Beatles to the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton to Bob Seeger to Bruce Springsteen to AC/DC to the Stray Cats to the Blasters etc were inspired by him, how his marathon tour schedule brought him to the people, how he would show up at gigs asking for $10,000 in a paper bag and expecting the house to provide a backing band that knew his material, and if they were good, he would give the band $1000, about the several ways he was screwed over in his career, etc, etc, etc, and he deserves every word of it. Even the inevitable legendary exaggerations and fabrications.

I first discovered 1950's rock & roll when my favorite babysitter gave me a Bill Haley album that led off with the theme song from "Happy Days," that TV show that came on after "Emergency" or "Fire House" that my mom would never let me watch. It grew slightly when Elvis Presley died, and more when I saw "Grease" and "American Graffiti."

But a greater appreciation and understanding of the forms and sounds that set the world a'rockin really came when I discovered WABC-AM, and then WCBS-FM.

When I was growing up, my mom kept the radio on classical stations and news radio. Sometimes it would land on a "lite" radio station (or whatever they called it in the 1970's), basically elevator music, The Thousand Strings, etc. I was somehow aware of country-western music, and that I liked it, and of course I was made familiar with Pete Seeger and Oscar Brand and the world of folk music thorugh children;s concerts and played my mom's Smithsonian folk music album collection over and over again.

The death of Elvis and the 50's nostalgia movement made me think it was cool to know about popular culture of the past. For a while I got confused between '50's rock & roll and "Nostalgia" music, that is, pop music of the 1920's, '30's, '40's, and '50's, and listened to WNEW-AM. It's great music, and a lot of it inspired the early sounds of rock & roll, but it is not rock & roll.

Then, by the 5th grade, the NY Yankees, whose games had been broadcast on WINS newsradio, moved to WABC, a rock & roll radio station. That was when I started listening to rock & roll. the 1980's had not yet arrived, and the idea of "the evolution of rock" was a new concept, one which WABC pioneered.

When WABC switched to an all-talk format (the week after I graduated from the 8th grade), I had to find a new radio station. I had gotten a Sony Walkman FM radio as a graduation present, and played around with a few stations, WAPP, WNEW, WBIS (during a period in which I was trying to get past the friend zone with a punk stoner chick), but the only place I could reliably find the sound that thrilled me, that genuine, raw, early rock & roll sound, was WCBS-FM. True, sometimes I had to wait through some Big-Chill-era stuff, and of course the requisite Beatles and British invasion stuff (all of which is very good in its own right), but then a Chuck Berry song would come on, and I would perk up my ears and listen to every note, every syllable, absorbing the sound until I could play it in my head.

In my sophomore year of high school I got a Sanyo C4 home/portable stereo set, which I could plug into my mom's record player. So when I started making enough money to do so, I started buying records. After seeing "Streets of Fire" I became a big fan of the Blasters. When I asked a musician friend of mine if he could play their song "Rock and Roll Will Stand," he replied that it was just "Johnny B. Goode." That got me to realizing that lots of early rock & roll songs were just that same melody. When Marty McFly played "Johnny B. Goode" in "Back to the Future," I would fantasize that it was me up there, rocking out. When I learned how to play harmonica I re-wrote the words to "Johnny B. Goode" to make applicable to a harmonica player on the Lower East Side.

 As my knowledge of 50's rock & roll grew, so did my record collection. It got so I started to build a compete collection of the classics by the greats so I could make the perfect cassette of '50's rock & roll music, because every compilation album or "the greatest hits" collection was always loaded down with ballads and stuff that just didn't "rock." Among the first of these albums was Chuck Berry's "The Great Twenty-Eight."

A Village Voice writer wrote an article titled "Chuck Berry: A Theory of Fun." It was a cover story. It made perfect sense to me. The man was a genius. His music is not about seeking a sublime higher level of existence, it is about taking life as it is and enjoying every moment on Earth.

I saw a triple feature of Alan Freed movies ("Rock, Rock, Rock," "Go, Johnny, Go!" and "American Hot Wax" at the Thalia Soho. Chuck Berry was in all of them, and if there were any justice in this world, he would have been in more.

(Note Alan Freed's hot drum licks in this clip from "Rock, Rock, Rock!")

Now you can't hear 1950's music on the radio anymore. Even the "Oldies" stations don't play anything before the Beatles, and we are the poorer for it.

He is gone now, may he find a well deserved reward in whatever afterlife goes to musical geniuses who have changed the world, and may rock & roll never die!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

When Indians meet "Indians."

This is a story idea for a movie in which a South Asian person has contact with Native Americans. The point of the story is to set up a theoreticaly possible, if fictional, framework in which two different kinds of "Indians" could meet. To my knowledge, no suich meeting of historic import has ever occurred.


This story begins in India in the late 1850's, shortly after the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The British army in India is in the process of being restructured. Our main character is a loyal Sikh, under the command of a young British officer.

We need a reason for this officer to leave India in 1862, and for this Sikh to go with him, but once they depart, the head to North America to observe the Civil War, much in the style of Colonel Freemantle, who obnserved the Battle of Gettysburg, esentially as a "war tourist."

Our british officer and Sikh soldier land in Texas and work their way north to find the front lines. In the course of their adventures, they become separated, and our Sikh winds up wandering through Indian country.

He is found in the desert by a native tribe, who nurses him back to health. He proves his valor in a skirmish with another native tribe. In time, he goes through a vision quest and becomes a valued member of the tribe, much in the style of "A Man Called Horse" or "Little Big Man." His bond with the tribe even goes as far as getting a wife and becoming blood-brother with her brother.

Meanwhile, our British officer had fallen in with some Missouri bushwackers, much like Quantrill's Raiders. At the end of the war, the raiders head west to escape the pursuing US cavalry. In their flight, their leader is wounded. As he lays dying, he passes leadership on to the Britisher, for he has shown his battle skill and leadership qualities, and the men support him.

The raiders head into Indian territory with a notion to go to Mexico. Starvation and thirst dog them until they wind up getting ambushed by the tribe of which the Sikh is now a member. In the course of the ambush, the two men reunite. The Sikh convinces the cheif to let the raiders live and reover with them until they are ready to go on their way. One of the raiders tries to steal from the tribe, but the Britisher kills him, proving his sense of courtesy to the tribe to which his old friend now belongs.

Meanwhile the US cavalry is till on the trail of the raiders. They are better equipped for the desert than the raiders were, so they are hearty when they find the tribe. The ensuing massacre kills the Sikh's wife and child, and reminds both the Sikh and the Britisher of incidents in the Indian Mutiny that they committed, and are repulsed.

The cavalry manages to capture the Britisher and the Sikh alive. The go to the Britisher and inform him tha the is a sort of hero in England, where they have been reading reports of his gallant adventures in fighting for such a lost cause. Personally, the cavallry officer would be happy to execute him along with the rest of the readers for treason and insurrection, but Queen Victoria has sent a direct messsage to the president to bring him back alive. The Sikh, however, is "just another Indian."

The Sikh's blood brother/brother in law had been out hunting when the massacre/attack occurs, so he is able to help him escae. The Sikh won't go without the Britisher, but there is a moment of hesitation as the Britisher considers his loyalty to the queen. That hesitation proves fatal, however. The escape attempt is discovered. The Britisher decides to sacrifice himself so the two "Indians" can escape.

The blood brothers get away and locate the rest of the tribe's warriors, who had all been out hunting and missed the massacre. The blood brothers form a war party of these braves, and forge a legend of indomitable fighting spirit against the US cavalry.


I need to research which Native American tribe would fit best into this story. I also need to do a little more research into the life of a mid-19th century British officer to get him out of India and to america with a Sikh soldier in 1862.

My main question is, however, is this an appropriate use of NAtive American and Sikh culture for the purpose of narrative entertainment, or and I selfishly appropriating the cultures at the roiskl of misrepresenting or offending them? The concept of "Indians" meeting Indians intrigues me. Folks have been confusing one for the other ever since Columbus' error centuries ago. Why not put them together and see what happens.

In my research so far, I found that a series of wars and rebellions in India in the mid 19th century had several parallels with the Indain Wars in th American West. These include massacres, the playing off of one group of natives agains the other, natives loyal to the colonial forces, a heavy dose of racism ans romanticism, etc. Perhaps by telling this fictional story I can bring up issues of colonailism, "white man's burden" issues, loyalty, honor, fairness, and justice.

What do you think?