winning "hearts and minds" without the use of military force

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How Can I Help?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Music makes the people come together.

Where are you Mad General? What are your loyal throngs of readers supposed to do in this long and unexplained absence? I want to fill the space with something… something… anything,,, what?!? Random songs. What a lovely concept for listing. Today on my way to (and from) work, my ipod on shuffle, I got (in this order):

Girl from the North Country—Bob Dylan
Sexy M.F. –Prince
One Evening—Feist
Wild Wild Life—Talking Heads
You’ve got Her in Your Pocket—White Stripes
Neighborhood #2 –Arcade Fire
To Love Somebody—Nina Simone
Family Bible—Willie Nelson & Johnny Cash
From the Morning—Nike Drake
Dead Man’s Hill—Indigo Girls
He Never Got Enough Love—Lucinda Williams

Music. God, I love it. I don’t claim to understand it, have no idea what makes a song “good”, or what level of complexity I am listening too. It grabs hold of me though, sometimes so strangely, and makes me cry. The other day, for example, I started crying in my car as I attempted to sing along with Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)”. I was on my way to eat delicious Thai food for lunch, it’s a sunny day in the city, I am in love, and I am getting embarrassingly emotional about young girls giving it up too easily, and not respecting themselves.
I get that it is absurd. This is what I love. Give me lyric or a note and have it hit me the right way in the right moment, and suddenly I am feeling so much that I am crying—out of joy, painful memories, melancholy, despair, hilarity, whatever. This is what I want out of life.
I don’t know who is possibly reading this, but when was the last time (if ever) you smoked a little pot, cracked open a beer, turned the lights way down, and put on your headphones? Maybe danced around a little bit? Do it! I ended up doing it the other night, quite by accident, and it was seriously So Much Fun. Also, when you do it, I suggest throwing in Michael Jackson’s (the other MJ, the one we love) Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. You remember: mammasay mammasa mamakusa, mammasay mammasa mamakusa, mammasay mammasa mamakusa…
You might be pleasantly surprised by how completely into it you are. The key might be to be a non-regular pot smoker, like myself, so that the altered state of appreciation is intensified.

“Here on this mountain top, oh oh oh, I got some wild wild life.
I’ve got some news to tell, oh oh oh, about some wild wild life.”

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

All you need is...

I am having so much trouble concentrating. My life right now is whittled down to a single point of fantastic, blinding light. Who I am, what I am doing, what my point is, I can so easily forget. I am in love. I just started thinking that maybe this is what it is all about. Love is everything. Not necessarily the drunken, intense kind of romantic love I am now feeling, but just love. Any opportunity to have it distilled like this is fantastic, of course, but it is everywhere, all over the place. This is like a magic carpet ride or a concentration of wildflowers, poppies in every color. I am tripping over things. I am smiling wistfully on park benches.
What we give our attention to will thrive. There is so much to love.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday Random 10

Have a look at these gals. Their sound is absorbing. I find that, when listening to the songs of The Be Good Tanyas, I must listen closely though I've heard them often. And I'm not listening for any musical or lyrical nuance -- just to enjoy the life that's there and is always fresh. My daughter, who's five months old, sometimes seems to be as rapt as I am. And she already knows how to shake a leg. I wonder when will she ask me, "daddy, can I have my own guitar?" When will she begin to chirp like a Nashville Warbler? Well, if/when she does, it may be because she's heard Blue Horse one too many times. Ah, these impressionable children.

1) Bishop Danced -- Bruce Springsteen (Tracks)
2) I Am a Cinematographer -- Bonnie Prince Billy (Greatest Palace Music)
3) Black Train Blues -- Bukka White (Complete Bukka White)
4) Young James -- Kate Rusby (Underneath the Stars)
5) I Don't Want To Be With Me -- Conway Twitty (Silver Anniversary)
6) Here Comes My Baby -- Yo La Tengo (Fakebook)
7) Crepuscule With Nellie -- Thelonious Monk (Monk's Music)
8) Green Eyes -- Nick Cave (Boatman's Call)
9) Release Me -- Junior Kimbrough (You Better Run)
10) Only In the Past -- Be Good Tanyas (Blue Horse)

Colors streak the sky,
we laugh and we cry,
and we dance in the cool grass
with the fireflies.
And we dance in the cool grass,
sunset birds and
sweet sweet music
swallow our words.

From "Only In the Past" by The Be Good Tanyas

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dear Mr. Landlord

Don Knotts died last Thursday. I read about it on Saturday. I thought: well, even endearingly funny people die. I went on with what I was doing. But I soon found that I couldn't shake it off. I guess that when a great television actor passes, one that you admire -- it can seem on some level that you just lost someone you knew well. At first, I understood that it was only the death of a famous stranger -- another actor, three-time husband, father, voter, golfer, lover of prawns, of burlesque, of whatever, someone I didn't know at all, and someone who didn't know me. But, as happened when John Ritter of Three's Company died a couple years ago, it eventually struck me that this man who is gone forever was, in fact, someone who had managed to bring a lot of laughter and happiness to my life. He was someone who in the course of his work had often made me smile ear to ear; someone who I really had come to know through his great talent. It's funny -- now I'm feeling so forlorn when at first his death hadn't struck me as very momentous a departure. Now I want to thank him. I want him to come back.

I think I will never forget Mr. Furley: Don Knotts' goofy and loveable landlord from Three's Company. Like any great character in any great play, motion picture, or television series -- or any story for that matter -- Mr. Furley's every note was properly struck. He truly and completely existed for five years (and for my brother and I long after in reruns). I doubt anyone else interpreting, acting those lines could have made my brother and I laugh so hard and wish so much that he would never leave the scene. Don Knotts supplied his character with ample, wacky, and vivid humanity -- so much so, that I kind of wished he would meet a nice lady to keep him company in his golden years. Someone who would see through the absurd posturing and accidental hijinx to the real Mr. Furley.

Of course, Knotts will be remembered for many things, things having to do with his career on its various stages, and for things I cannot even imagine not knowing anything about his day to day life. To me, he's the cavalier and clumsy landlord with the secret heart of gold that confounded Jack and Janet with his sudden investigative check-ins which were really a naked search for companionship. Aw, I miss you, Don! My personal thanks for leaving so much behind to remember you by, and particularly your Mr. Furley, who was that rarest of breeds -- the groovy, good-hearted landlord.

The Picture for Rick

If you hadn't heard, Rick Santorum -- the GOP Senator from Pennsylvania -- perhaps the apotheosis of a politician who is at once demonstrably corrupt and morally dogmatic, is having one hell of an uphill crawl toward securing his third term in office. His challenger, Bob Casey Jr., has had a comfortable lead in the polls that seems to be widening as the race matures. Although Casey, a self-proclaimed "moderate," is not my ideal Democrat, I cannot help but be impressed by the inroads he's made against someone who, three or four years ago, must have been considered a lock to remain a fixture in Pennsylvanian as well as national politics for the foreseeable future. Casey has a good step on the poster-boy for conservative politics in America. There's a long way to go. But if you knock Santorum out of elected office then you've knocked an anterior tooth from the GOP's wicked grin. And you've earned this voter's heartfelt thanks.

Casey/Santorum is a race that, as a native Pennsylvanian, I'll be following closely. I tend to be rather unexcited by the various key campaigns going on around the country until June at the earliest, but this year I'm already feeling the pangs of hope -- especially with regard to this one. So I'm attempting to educate myself. And I'll be weighing in at intervals here about the progress of the race as it gets on track.

Mining for information, I recently found a remarkable site that seems to be about elucidating Santorum's record and keeping track of local and national journalism as it's written about him. It's point of view is critical, but hey -- I'm sure they'd love to say something nice about the guy. It's just that it ain't that easy. For instance, of all US Senators that hold office in a "blue" state, Rick Santorum has the lowest rating from the League of Conservation voters, at ten percent. That statistic says he's adamently anti-environment and pro-auctioning America and its natural resources to the highest corporate bidder -- in a state with environmental values that tilt progressive. But frankly, his disagreement with PA voters is pretty much across-the-board. And as Operation Iraqi Turd Blossom continues to sow shame and sadness at home and virulent anti-Americanism abroad, he's all but lost his ability to play the terror card.

Of course, this is a familiar theme in high-profile races across the country: America is simply wising up to the great scam that is the conservative platform, the conservative vision. When they talk about cutting spending, watch the deficit explode. When they talk about keeping America safe -- watch the ports, think of Katrina, think of Iraq, think of our country -- it's hard to believe -- currently losing a tactical war to a crippled Saudi crime boss who's administering from a hideout somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan. I certainly believe that voters are starting to piece together the picture, and for Republicans, it's worse than "The Scream." It looks a lot like Santorum and his kind -- no longer grinning.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Nothing in Common

I’ve been meaning to write, I really have. I found this picture and wanted to use it to accompany some comments on a blurb I read in The Week. It was about how a 25 year-old American soldier who was wounded by a bomb in Iraq was made to pay for his body armor which was discarded because it was covered in blood and had to be “peeled off his twitching body”. The Army had “no record” of the armor being discarded. The young soldier, William Rebrook, who has lost full use of his right arm, had to borrow the $700 dollars to pay the American Government what it cost to replace it.

I thought it would be challenging to link this photo with this story. What I have realized is how much more challenging it is to even comment on this story. I can say I am appalled. I can say I had no idea that our military was in such dire financial straits that it must be reimbursed by its wounded soldiers for damaged equipment. If I had known I would have lobbied for more tax dollars to go to the military. I would have hand written a sign and marched down Market Street, putting my controversial message out there in this peaceful little hippie town. We are obviously spending too much money on education or some other useless thing in this country. Obviously.

It is a beautiful photograph, isn’t it? It was in an acquaintance’s online album of her trip to India. The angle is good, the colors are brilliant: energizing and calming at the same time. The bench looks well-used and welcoming. The photograph itself, like its subject, is a tiny sanctuary in a bustling world. It looks like a place where you might go to clear your mind and then think, or try not to think, whatever was demanded by the moment.

So what this photo has to do with the story above is, I suppose, absolutely nothing. When a person has put up his life and his limbs, in earnest, to serve his country in an unjust war, and that country happens to be the most wealthy and powerful nation in the world, and that nation makes as ridiculous a demand of him as told in the above story -- there is no clarity, no thinking, no sanctuary, or sanity, no peace, no tranquility, no welcoming in that.

I do hope you enjoy the picture.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Late Friday Random Ten Plus Annie's Song

It was almost ten thirty when I finally got around to relaxin' just me, my girl, the lamplight, some hot chocolate, and the Friday random ten. Plus Annie's Song.

I had to throw it in there because I woke up this morning singing it. This happens to all of us from time to time. A song seems to hatch from nowhere in your head (where you been Lionel?) and evolve there until you end up in front of the bathroom mirror with tousled hair, tears streaming down, belting the one verse you actually know the lyrics to. It happens to all of us.

Anyway, today I woke up singing Annie's Song, perhaps because of a dream I had. I was playing the sixties folk circuit with Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. (aka John Denver). The year was '66, and we were sharing a campfire at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. We were sitting there after that day's performances, just he and I, and I decided to play a few things -- some blues stuff I'd picked up in an earlier dream with Son House in it. John was very receptive; I have to say, he was just the nicest guy you'd ever want to have in a dream with you. He even clapped when I finished playing "You Just Know Me Too Damn Well" an original blues that I swear I never heard, and I never played, and that doesn't even exist, yet that somehow I was playing in a dream. Weird. Well, when I finished, John said he'd like to show me some chords he had put together with lyrics that he thought may still be rough. He figured if he could get the song done he would put it in his set the next day. Then he tuned up that 12 string of his and played Annie's Song, a love hymn of ridiculous beauty.

I must have awakened from my dream during the song, because I don't remember telling him what I thought about it. And I don't remember asking him who Annie was to deserve such a sweet number. Turns out, Annie was his first wife and the muse for most of his best work. They separated in 1983 and eventually divorced. Those were Denver's moderately troubled "Behind the Music" years. It occurred to me, even while sitting next to him at the campfire of my dream in 1966, that he would one day achieve immense fame with his singing and songwriting; that he would become the Bob Dylan of the happy, fresh air set. But I also knew, though I don't think I had the notion to express any of it, that he was going to do some really bad acting in some unbelievably bad movies in the late '70's and early '80's; that he was going to get way too involved with the Muppets; and that his cheery, all-natural folk music would get body-slammed by the synthetic schlock that seemed to dominate the recording industry by the year 1984. But worst -- on top of it all, I might have let him know that he would one day plunge to his death in a homemade plane at the age of 53. I might have said something like: "For God Sake don't build your own plane and fly in it! If you do, I'm telling you you're not going to be pleased with the result!"

No -- in my dream, at that campfire with John, it was all about the music, pure and simple. And John had just played the perfect song to wake up to. Here's this week's list plus Annie's Song.

1) Missing The War -- Ben Folds Five (Whatever & Ever Amen)
2) Oh Sister -- Bob Dylan (Desire)
3) The Maids of Cadiz -- Miles Davis (Miles Ahead)
4) Going Down The Road Feeling Bad -- Woody Guthrie (Asch Recordings Vol. 1)
5) From A Buick 6 -- Bob Dylan (Highway 61 Revisited)
6) Junkie Chase -- Curtis Mayfield (Superfly)
7) He Never Got Enough Love -- Lucinda Williams (Sweet Old World)
8) Oj Talasi -- Trebevic Choir (The Planet Sleeps)
9) Six White Horses -- Michael Masley (All Songs Considered Vol. 1)
10) Open All Night -- Bruce Springsteen (Nebraska)
11) Annie's Song -- John Denver (An Evening With John Denver)

You fill up my senses/ Like a night in the forest,
Like a mountain in springtime/ Like a walk in the rain,
Like a storm in the desert/ Like a sleepy blue ocean,
You fill up my senses/ Come fill me again.

From "Annie's Song" by John Denver