Archive for the 'Soapbox' Category

Joining The “Grateful” Generation

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Yesterday was June 6th, the anniversary of D-Day. On that day in 1944, 300,000 Allies stormed ashore at Omaha, Utah, Juneau, Gold, and Sword beaches. The Liberation of Europe was underway. It was a day burned into the collective memory of “The Greatest Generation.” Baby Boomers like me were also well aware of it, thanks to movies like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. Most of us actually knew (or were even related to) guys who had served in World War II, the defining conflict of the 20th Century. It may not have been Current Events to us, but its aftershocks were still being felt – from our Armies of Occupation to our own Selective Service ratings (IA, IIS, etc.).

But lets be real – to the kids of today, that was a long, long time ago.

Let’s put it in perspective, shall we? Clint Eastwood, who is not only still active but still growing as a creative talent, recently celebrated his 80th birthday. When he was born in 1930, the American Civil War had been over for 65 years. But to Clint and others of his age, that war was ancient history, dating back to a time before radio, movies, and automobiles. Well, to a child born in 2010, WWII is just as ancient – it also ended 65 years ago.

Known to today’s young (if known at all) as “the war fought in black and white,” the Allies’ victory over the Axis Powers dates back to a time before TVs, computers, microwaves, and cell phones – not to mention I-pods, I-pads, and texting. In other words, Iwo Jima goes exactly as far back in the “olden” days to contemporary kids as Gettysburg did to Clint and his contemporaries.

So I understand why many teens and pre-teens today feel no personal connection to “The Good War.” The trouble is, just about everything they take for granted as Americans is a direct result of the shared sacrifice of an entire generation of Americans, many of whom are still with us today. (But who are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day.) Whether they fought in Europe or the Pacific, or simply tended their “Victory Gardens” here at home, World War II was everybody’s war, with all called upon to help out in their own way.

Like it or not, Boomers like me, and Gen X or Gen Y-ers will never be the Greatest Generation – that’s already taken. But there is still time for those of us who are the direct beneficiaries of the Greatest’s clarity of vision, and their willingness to fight or even die for our liberty, to become members of The “Grateful” Generation.

So while you still can, thank anyone and everyone you meet who did their part to win what is still called – 65 years later – “The War.” They deserve it. Join me and the rest of The Grateful Generation.

Bob Dylan: The Rorschach Test Of His Generation?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

April 22nd, folk singer Joni Mitchell (born Roberta Joan Anderson in Canada) was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying “Bob [Dylan] is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.”

Today, author and LA Weekly contributor Jonny Whiteside amplified Ms. Mitchell’s charges, adding a dirty-laundry list of specific complaints, including:
* 16 year old Robert Zimmerman (the future Dylan) submitted an “original” poem for publication which was – in fact – a “thinly revised version” of Hank Snow’s song, Little Buddy.
* He cribbed from Civil War-era poet Henry Timrod, among many others.
* Dylan’s song Beyond The Horizon featured a “naked… melody heist” from “Red Sails In The Sunset.
* “…his vocal style was high-jacked, in its entirety, from long-dead bluegrass-country singer, Carter Stanley.”

In accusing and convicting Dylan of these and other musical high crimes and misdemeanors, Whiteside invited his readers to type “Bob Dylan plagiarism” into their favorite search engine. So I did. And what I found was both more and less than what Whiteside (and Joni Mitchell) may have intended.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should confess that I initially bought into Whiteside’s whole indictment. Part of this was due to his authoritative writing style, his many cited examples, and his stated willingness for us to look at the facts for ourselves. But a big part of my lack of impartiality was my long-held personal belief that Dylan is a moderately talented guy who was hyped as The Voice Of His Generation.

So I was open to what Joni and Jonny were selling. Unfortunately, some of their arguments are… well, arguable.

They’ve apparently got him dead to rights for swiping the Hank Snow lyrics – when he was 16. So they’re entitled to claim he committed that particular theft (even if the statute of limitations ran out it, 48 years ago!)

And the chord sequence in Beyond The Horizon (not the melody, as Whiteside stated) is about as close to Red Sails In The Sunset as you can get – as close, say, as My Sweet Lord was to He’s So Fine, and those guys collected, big time!

But the supposed plagiarism of the Civil War poet is – when looked at in context – a harder sell.

So is the claim that he appropriated Carter Stanley’s singing style as his own. Carter did indeed sing in a rural Southern accent (something not native to most kids from Hibbing, Minnesota). And he did have a nasally tenor. But, if you’ll go to YouTube and listen to Carter for yourself, I don’t think you’ll hear any of Dylan’s distinctive talk-singing. Nor did Carter’s pitch fall off at the end of phrases in the Dylan fashion.

Indeed, after investigating each of Whiteside’s claims, I concluded that Dylan was not clad in The Emperor’s New Clothes. Nor is he the Anti-Christ or Zelig (check it out) of pop music.

Perhaps what he really is, is a Rorschach Test in the eye and ear of every beholder – a moderately talented guy who isn’t The Voice Of His Generation. But then, who truly could be?

The Mis-Information Age? It’s Here To Stay!

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Musing through yesterday’s news, I read:
1. Johnny Depp was the victim of a fatal traffic accident.
2. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie split up.
Sir Richard Burton (Liz Taylor’s Ex) was also mentioned – twice (in actress Jean Simmons’ obituary and a review of the late-night wars.)

Of course, the problem with this breathless reportage is that all of it was wrong!

Johnny Depp is alive and well, and is only the victim of a story that re-surfaces regularly (and wrongly.) Brad and Angelina swear they’ve never been happier (which is too bad for Jennifer Aniston, who – according to many of the same online sources that reported the split-up – still pines breathlessly for Brad’s return.) And “Sir” Richard Burton properly refers to the English explorer who died in 1890, not the Welsh actor who twice married and divorced Elizabeth Taylor. Burton the actor was awarded an MBE in 1970, but was never knighted.

I for one am not going to spend a lot of time lamenting the “good old days,” when reporting was more accurate. Indeed, I am perfectly thrilled to live in an age when each of us can share our thoughts instantly with the whole world. That is the beauty and power of today’s Information Age – anybody can write anything. Unfortunately, that is also the reason why our current epoch might better be called the “Dis-Information” or “Mis-Information” Age – anybody can write anything (and usually will.)

I’m also not going to propose tougher standards on who should be allowed to write, or what erroneous crap they can foist upon the reading public. That horse has left the barn; Pandora’s box has been opened. We will never return to a time (indeed, such a time never existed) when only “responsible” parties can write “the truth.” Along with all the wonderful facts and opinion now available to us at the speed of light will be lies, half-truths, rumors, and innuendo which are equally accessible and – at first glance – perhaps even plausible.

So – if the writing is not going to be censored – how are we going to avoid ever more incidents of false information being disseminated? The answer – we aren’t. Therefore it behooves us as readers to evolve from our “it must be true – I read it somewhere!” mentality, to filtering data and considering its source. (This is going to be a challenge when one of the most accurate news organizations of late is The National Enquirer.) We’ll have to actually evaluate what we are reading and viewing online, and – of necessity – take into account the vast potential of Photoshop in assessing the believability of every picture we see.

In sum, we are going to have to… (dare I say it?) …THINK! (Please excuse the all-caps. I’m not morphing into Kanye West – really.)

We will decide what is correct from data promoted by multiple and conflicting “news” sources. (Has Obama created “millions” of jobs, “thousands” of jobs, or no jobs? Is the globe warming or cooling?) Our future, and that of our children, will depend on how well We The People sort through the noise. And only one thing is certain: it won’t be easy.

Aldous Huxley introduced us to the term, Brave New World. Well Bunky – we’d better be brave! ‘Cause whatever we choose to call this Age (Information, Dis-Information, etc.), it’s not going to be a place for sissies!

Happy Birthday Elvis (And Thank Yew – Thank Yew Vurrah Much!!!)

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

This Friday (January 8th) marks the Diamond Jubilee of Elvis Presley’s birth. He would have been 75, which is the age his arteries and heart already were when he died at 42 from all those fried banana sandwiches, uppers, downers, and laxatives.

There are so many bad Elvis impersonators (85,000 according to one report – of which about 3 are really good), and so many bad Elvis movies re-running constantly on TV (he made 31 as an actor – of which ditto), that it is easy to forget how wonderful he could be – especially in concert.

I had the opportunity to see Elvis perform 3 times, and it was a show like no other before or since. Yes, some of his most beautiful and simple songs suffered from over-produced arrangements (I especially grieved at the elephantiasis wreaked upon the hauntingly lovely “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”), and he occasionally lapsed into self-parody with his early rock hits like “Hound Dog,” but over all, it was magic.

Much has been written since Elvis “left the building” in 1977 about his dark side. And yes, he was definitely given to excess. But as I’ve mentioned before in this column, I think what really killed him was the fact that – like his son-in-law Michael Jackson – nobody had the guts to say “no” to him. The hangers-on of his “Memphis Mafia,” his drug-dispensing doctors, his manager, and even his own father failed to utter the one word that might have saved his life.

It’s a shame. The King of Rock and Roll deserved better. The straight-from-the-heart singer who gave us “Love Me Tender,” “Loving You,” “Crying In The Chapel,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” deserved better. The poor boy from Tupelo who defined a decade’s Pop Music in a way that few (Sinatra, The Beatles) ever will certainly deserved better. For all the joy he gave to millions, he had earned happiness and peace.

I hope he’s found it now. I hope he can hear his fans say back to him those words that were such a big part of every concert appearance:

“Thank you,” Elvis. “You’re beautiful.” “Thank you very much!”

Ultimate Freedom = Ultimate Responsibility

Monday, September 14th, 2009

I had the honor this past weekend of emceeing an event honoring a couple whose durable marriage and history of service to family and community earned them a long-overdue tribute dinner.

Like most such events, this one was set to consist of a time for guests to enter and visit with the couple, followed by the meal, a brief program from me, and then an opportunity for family and friends to offer their comments and toasts.

Prior to the event, the honorees entrusted me with the responsibility of pacing the evening. And – when I say “entrusted” – I mean that they handed the reins of their special night to me. Such assurance is rare in my business – I almost always have a chairperson or party planner who outranks me. Their faith was very liberating. It gave me the flexibility to run the show, based on my years of experience. If I thought it was time to move on to the next item on the agenda, no one was going to second guess me. I have to admit, it felt really good.

For about five minutes.

Then the realization soaked into my thick cranium that – if this party bombed – there would be little doubt who was to blame. It would be yours truly, and nobody else.

Fortunately for me, things went pretty well. At least, the guests of honor seemed pleased.

But it made me realize – for the very first time – how Newton’s Third Law of Motion (“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”) affects our daily lives.

How many college freshman are so thrilled to be “free” of parental constraints, that they flunk out their first semester? They overdose on the freedom, without accepting its equal and opposite: responsibility to show up for class and study.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that – while I didn’t technically “flunk out” my first semester – I didn’t wow anyone with my mature behavior, either.)

However, the older I get, the more I agree with Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore:
I slept and dreamt that life was joy / I awoke and found that life was service
I acted and behold, service was Joy.

Don’t Blame Me – I Voted For Perot!

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

In 1992, independent candidate Ross Perot took on the sitting President of the United States (Republican George H.W. Bush) and the Democrat nominee (Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton) in a 3-way contest for the White House. Conventional wisdom dictates that he should have had no chance at all. Why?

1. He had never sought or held public office before, and thus had no track record.
2. As an independent, he had no party backing or organization.
3. In our telegenic age of blow-dried candidates with $300 coifs, his white-sidewalled crew cut had hardly changed since his years at the U.S. Naval Academy. While Bush resembled the Chairman of the Board at the local polo club, and Clinton both looked and spoke like a televangelist, Perot came across as Everyman. If ever there could be a “People’s Billionaire,” it was him.

Which is why 20 million Americans – 19% of the voters – cast their ballots for the gentleman from Texarkana. Apparently, they considered his message more important than his lack of elected experience or his supposed sartorial shortcomings. Uncounted millions more wanted to vote for him, and would have, had they not bought into the canard – no doubt endorsed by the Democrat and Republican National Committees – that he could “never” win. (Note to all would-be Nostradami: prognosticators who say never – ie. “we can never split the atom, …put a man on the moon, …elect a non-white President, etc. – tend to have a diet rich in crow.)

What exactly was this message that compelled 20 million Americans to “throw away” their votes? It was the very Essence of America – that’s what.

Perot said that if every grandparent understood how relinquishing their personal claims to a Social Security check would save their grandchildren from inheriting a bankrupt America – they would gladly do so. This was the “Greatest Generation,” after all – folks for whom no sacrifice was too much in order leave their beloved country better able to face the future.

So, with pie charts and straight talk, Perot gave us all fair warning of the financial melt-down to come. Events of the past months how only proved how right he was.

Last November, I was convinced that the Greatest Generation had given way to the Narcissist Generation, a group of voters who believed in “Me First,” and cared not a whit for the debt they were leaving for their children to shoulder. I would have told you then that – had Ross Perot been running in 2008 – he’d have gotten less than 2% of the vote.

But now, at the end of what has truly been the Long Hot Summer of town hall meetings, I think the tide may have turned. A late-August Rasmussen poll found that 57% of Americans would vote to kick out all 535 of our senators and congressmen. A 21st century Ross Perot (or Bill Cosby, or Rick Warren) run might trigger the biggest electoral upset in our nation’s history.

Like a lot of super-successful businessmen, Perot really was able to see into the future (which is how they become so successful in the first place.) And he got 20 million voters to share his vision. Unfortunately, it’s taken 17 years for most Americans to catch up. Now the problems have reached critical mass.

So Ross – if you’re interested – America needs someone with your clarity. America needs to hear your message again now. Only this time, it’s we who will be “all ears.”

The WORST Songs Ever!

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Earlier today, my music-loving pastor asked me – as a guy who plays tunes for a living, as opposed to for my own enjoyment – which songs I’d be happy to never play again. After reflecting on that question for a few hours, I’ve decided that my “List of the Least” would have to fall into 3 categories:

1. Ubiquitous melodies. Joy To The World (“Jeremiah was a bullfrog…”), Tie A Yellow Ribbon, and Feelings (“Woah-oh-oh…”) were so overplayed for so long that – whatever their merits – I just got sick to death of playing them. Even truly beautiful songs like Unchained Melody (the Righteous Brothers hit featured in Ghost) can and have been worn out, simply from excessive use.

2. Over-dramatic tunes. Lushly produced, hyper-emotional songs (pretty much anything by Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, and Barry Manilow) get really old, really fast. And so did New York, New York (about 30 years ago, and ever since.) The fact is, all these hits are much more showcases for the vocal chops and technique of their singers than they are great songs. I think it’s instructive that the 2 best known purveyors of New York, New York (Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra) are both Academy Award-winning actors. Given one of these talents, a 36-piece orchestra, and enough reverb, even Itsy Bitsy Spider could be a show-stopper.

3. Just plain lame songs. “In the desert, you can’t remember your name, ’cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.” (Aah – where should I even begin with this one?) This excerpt from the ’70s hit Horse With No Name tortures its syntax, uses double negatives, and displays a total logic lobotomy – all to set up a rhyme that doesn’t rhyme!

But my vote for the Worst Lyrics Ever is this verse from another ’70s classic, Put Your Hand In The Hand Of The Man. “Every time I look into the Holy Book, I wanna tremble / When I read about the part where the Carpenter cleared the temple / ‘Cause the buyers and the sellers were no different fellers than what I profess to be / And it causes me pain to know I’m not the man that I should be.”

This song was a huge hit. And we who made its composers rich deserved more than them (not) rhyming “tremble” with “temple.” Secondly, last I heard, Joseph was the carpenter, Jesus was a rabbi (teacher.) Next, the buyers and the sellers were only “no different fellers” if you like the idea of attending worship services where the Eucharist is brought to you by Pepsi-Cola. And finally, the composers set up the verse to end with a rhyme for the word “be.” They had an alphabet full of options to work with, including “me,” “see,” and every adverb ending in -ly. So which of the dozens of possibilities did they choose to rhyme with “be?” Why – be, of course! (At least it actually did rhyme, though I suspect Cole Porter rolled over in his grave a few times.)

But now that I’ve given you my non-hit parade, I would ask you to please remember that – if you hire me – you can feel free to request any of these songs you wish. (And Ring My Bell. And Torn Between Two Lovers, To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before, and… )

“Birthers” And The DIS-Information Age

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

With all the focus on topics like War, Recession, and The Real Housewives Of Atlanta this week, you may have missed the BIG STORY: a newly-named group claims that Barack Obama fails to meet the statutory requirement that our Presidents must be born in the good ol’ US of A.

These folks are now called “Birthers,” and while a few otherwise reputable souls like Lou Dobbs of CNN might be among their number, they are generally dismissed by the President’s backers as right-wing nut-jobs. Which isn’t fair, because Birthers also include some left-wing nut-jobs.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Democrat Birthers asserted that John McCain – having been born in the Canal Zone of Panama – was similarly disqualified for the Oval Office. Senator McCain’s parents – whose citizenship is not in dispute – were stationed there with the U.S. Navy.

Nor is Birther-ing really new at all. As far back as the 1960s, there were those who tried to prove that JFK was actually born during a sea crossing from England, not (as stated) in Massachusetts immediately after the voyage.

What each group failed to realize was that exemptions to the Born In The USA rule apply to both the McCain and Kennedy situations. But apparently, mere facts won’t deter a zealous Birther from his holy mission.

Witness the current email making the rounds which alleges that then-college student Obama traveled to Pakistan in 1981, at a time when such trips were outlawed to US citizens. Therefore he must have been traveling on a foreign passport, mustn’t he?

Actually, no. The whole premise is a phony. In fact, US citizens could and did travel to Pakistan in 1981 – perfectly legally.

We live in an age of instantaneous worldwide transmission of video, audio, and print. For this reason, we’ve been called “The Information Age.” Unfortunately, a lot of what goes out each day – like the Birther story above – is crap. With no filters to stop anybody from saying anything about anyone, what we really live in is the DIS-information Age.

So here’s a note to Birthers: whatever you might wish were true, if you have to resort to lies to sell your thesis, it’s probably not a very good one to begin with.

Now here’s a second thought: just because Americans could travel to Pakistan in 1981 doesn’t mean the collegiate Obama did use a US passport on his visit. So, if you really believe in what you’re saying, have Lou Dobbs ask Pakistan’s Immigration Office to check whether any Indonesians named “Barry” stopped by, around 28 years ago. And – until you and Lou do that – cut the crap. You’re just making those of us with actual valid reasons for opposing this administration’s policies look like we’re in bed with the loonies.

Who Really Killed Michael Jackson?

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Since his death June 25th, much speculation has been offered into who or what actually killed Michael Jackson. The 24/7 news channels have focused on his alleged use of Propofol, Demerol, and a variety of other heavy-duty pain killers/knock-out drops. Toxicology results will be issued in due time.

But there’s no need to wait. You, lucky reader, will get the answer right here, right now. Well – not right now. Let me toy with you for just a minute.

You see, the King of Pop died from the same malady that killed his former late-father-in-law, the King of Rock and Roll. Elvis also kept a well-equipped home pharmacy supplied by yet another all-too willing Dr. Feelgood. But here’s the scoop: no matter what you may have heard, drugs didn’t kill either Elvis or Michael. What did?

Both men died because not one single person loved them enough to tell them “no.”

Let that sink in for just a moment, please. Then think back to Elvis. If just one person had said to him, “El, I think you’ve had enough fried banana sandwiches for one day,” he might still be alive. He could have lived, if only somebody had cared about him enough to say, “Instead of using that heavy-duty prescription laxative again, how about drinking this bottle of water while we go on a nice long walk together?”

But did anybody do that? Did any family member stage an Overeater’s Anonymous intervention? Apparently not.

Perhaps if Bubbles the Chimp could have talked, Michael might have heard some similar hard truths, like “Michael, that third nose job was plenty.” Or the old politician’s adage, “Never be caught in bed with a live boy or a dead woman.”

In all fairness, sister Janet apparently did plan an Intervention. But Michael got wind of it, and threatened to lock the family out of Neverland Ranch. (NOTE TO JANET: Nice try, but – number 1 – we usually don’t tell the guest of honor that he’s about to be intervened. And – number 2 – someplace away from Neverland’s secret passageways and bedroom alarm system would have been preferred.)

Success doesn’t have to be terminal. And the even early adulation that Michael experienced can be overcome by loving – but not doting – friends and family. We in the real world could see that Michael needed serious help decades ago. Surely those closest to him could see it, too.

Yet, well-intentioned or not, they accomplished nothing. So who killed Michael Jackson? Hint: it wasn’t Bubbles.

Postscript: The incessant hype surrounding Michael completely obscured the June 30th obituary of one of Broadway’s greatest voices, Harve Presnell. Ironically, Presnell was best known for a song he introduced in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. That song’s name? “I’ll Never Say No To You.” (Also known as the Presley-Jackson national anthem.)

Questions On The Subject Of “Peace”

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

What – exactly – is “Peace?” Is it simply the absence of war, as in the Paxes Romana and Britannica, in which mighty military powers enforced their wills on subjugated colonies? The “Cold War,” that delicate balancing act between the USSR and USA – was that “Peace?” After all, we weren’t shooting at each other. (At least not directly – both sides usually let their proxies do the actual fighting.)

Those protesters in the streets of Teheran this very day – do they hate “Peace” so much that they are willing to be beaten and shot as rioters (“breakers of the peace”)? Or, just maybe, are they actually seeking something very similar to what we wanted in 1776?

As every schoolchild used to be taught – we were looking for Justice. We held “these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Isn’t that really what makes an otherwise peace-loving people rise up in protest? Isn’t the desire for Justice, and those rights and freedoms associated with it, that lead non-warlike people to rethink their attitude toward conflict?

William T. Sherman declared that “War is Hell.” And no doubt it is. But does that make War inherently evil? Without War, our Eastern Seaboard would still belong to England. Without War, the Great Southwest, from Texas to California, would be part of Mexico, which – without War – would still be a province of Spain. Without the blood of free men, Slavery would still be legal in this country, and Americans of African descent would be – in the eyes of the law – 3/5 of a person.

As we enter this July 4th weekend, I hope we will remember that it was not Peace that gave us the liberties we celebrate, it was our willingness to fight and – if necessary – die. Righteous warriors, not seeking conquest or fame, won something infinitely greater: Justice and Liberty.

So by all means love the idea of “Peace.” Just don’t confuse it with Justice. And, even if you hate the idea of War, whatever you do, don’t condemn the warriors who fight for that noble cause today. At least, don’t do it in my presence. Or you will find “Peace” to be conspicuously absent.

God bless America. God bless our troops. God bless all people everywhere for whom Justice and Liberty are unalienable rights of humankind. Have a great 4th of July!