Place Yer Bets

6 November 2011

We are one year out and I am going to break down the 2012 election.

Those who I served with at Roycemore Juvenile Reformatory School knew I was active in politics. I was always looking for a debate on the issues. I loved the electoral process, I even ran for statewide office in State Youth and Government. My slogan was “Deal with Neil.” I won by a landslide against three other candidates (263-70-52-34).

In the later part of my senior year, I read “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail of 1972.” Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s revelatory book on the most important campaign ever, of that year. I was struck by how honestly he was writing. He developed the Gonzo style with that book. Of course, before he pulled the book together, it was serialized in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine. (Who else remembers seeing ads for term papers on the back pages?). Thompson seemed to be having the time of his life covering the greatest show on earth. The best part was at the end of the day, he didn’t owe anybody any favors. He did not have to sell his soul to grub for one vote. He never had to appear interested in the meanderings of some hick Iowa farmer who could control his political destiny. At the moment, I decided I wanted to be a political reporter.

I did get to cover the 1988 election, albeit from Chicago but the process of the coverage fascinated me. The discussions that the reporters had were not about who had the best ideals, who could affect the most change, who could improve their constituents lot in life. It was about who could win, how much momentum (Mo) they had going, and would upset the apple cart. Handicapping the candidates is the sport of campaign reporters, that and padding their expense reports.

This summer the Grand Old Party saw eight candidates enter the race. Each time a new one entered, they were the immediate front-runner. The party faithful fawned all over the candidate thinking this was the chosen one who would help them re-take what is rightfully theirs – The White House. After the candidate spoke, participated in a debate or had their previous quotes come back, they faded. Some, like Tim Pawlenty a.k.a. T-Paw, never even made it to the starting gate, the Iowa Caucus. Then there was the non-candidate Sarah Palin. Where ever there was a republican event, announcement, debate etc, Palin and her magic bus was close enough to draw the mama grizzlies and media attention but far enough away for her to say she was not trying to steal that candidate’s big moment. According to GA state law, that is Class C felony called stalking. When shove finally gave way to push, Palin decided she would rather influence the election from the outside rather than running. So it goes.

There are eight candidates remaining. One has been running since 2007 and one since late this summer. As I announce them, you can play either of these two in your mind: The Dating Game or Eye in the Sky.

Michele Bachmann, U.S. Representative from Minnesota

Herman Cain, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, former National Restaurant Association CEO, and businessman from Georgia

Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives from Georgia

Jon Huntsman, Jr., former U.S. Ambassador to China and former Governor of Utah

Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico

Ron Paul, U.S. Representative from Texas

Rick Perry, Governor of Texas

Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts

Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania

With all that firepower, party stalwarts are still hoping someone, anyone, will come forward and unite the party. The Republicans seem to think the perfect candidate is out there and they are convinced that this bunch is not it.  Still, they must dance with one of them and several have had extended slow dances.  As of this writing, Romney and Cain are neck and neck.

Michele Bachman, if you like Sarah Palin but think she is too serious, you will love Bachmann. She got a nice bump when she entered the race. Then she started talking and the term “batshit crazy” didn’t eve do her justice. She is polling in the low single digits.

In early summer, Cain was not even getting good numbers in the Cain household. His economic message has resonated with the Tea Party branch of the party and the rank and file. Granted, rank and file and republicans is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as a rank and file millionaire. Cain is a former radio host, CEO of a pizza chain, CEO of the national restaurant association, Federal Reserve head in Atlanta. If you were to interview him for a job, the first thing the manager would say is that Cain is a job-hopper. The recent sexual harassment charges have had little to no affect on his polling or fund-raising.

Jon Huntsman is an interesting character. He was Obama’s ambassador to China and he believes in science. He is a Mormon. If the party had a strong moderate contingent who voted, he would be their nominee. They didn’t and he won’t.

Newt Gingrich is the smartest of the bunch. In fact, he may be one of the smartest men to run for the office. He also has a history of cheating on his wives when they get sick. Will he do the same with the country? I say no! We can’t get any sicker can we? He is currently in the mid teens and in third place. He could step up should Cain fall by the way side.

Ron Paul is your crazy uncle. Dunno about you but we didn’t let our crazy uncle handle the remote; I don’t see the GOP letting him handle the country.

Mitt (short for Mitterwald?)Romney has been the front-runner since November 5, 2008. He got a show on FOX, toured the country, made in-roads and yet only 27% of the republicans are in his camp. He is a well-known flip-flopper and he authored our country’s new health care plan that President Obama borrowed from liberally. Good luck explaining how the child you created and looks exactly like you is not yours. Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts and a Mormon, which means he will be great at ringing doorbells.

Gary Johnson is a guy who can walk down any street in this country and not be recognized. If you Google his name, he doesn’t even come up.

Speaking of Goggling a name, do not do this with Rick Santorum, ever!

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Rick Perry came out like gangbusters; he was called George W. Bush 2.0. Then he talked. After the second debate he was called George W. Bush without the intelligence. His poll numbers are shrinking like Texas death row inmates.

Now the handicapping begins. It is really a three-horse race for the nomination between, Cain, Gingrich and Romney. Romney has been the front-runner, except during the tire-kicking phase of Bachmann, Cain and Perry. Recent polls suggest that Romney has the best chance of beating President Obama. Republicans are many things; dumb is not one of them. They want their White House back and whoever is the best person to accomplish that will be the nominee. In a recent AP Poll, Romney received 45% against Obama’s 48%. Cain vs. Obama is a six point Obama victory while Gingrich or Perry  vs. Obama results in an Obama majority.

Now that all the primaries are so early, the nomination could be wrapped up on Super Tuesday, March 6, 2012. At that point, 20 states will have had their primaries. States like Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia and Ohio will be the big prizes. Florida and Texas are in the bag for Perry. Georgia will go for favorite son Cain. Romney will pick up Massachusetts and Ohio. Before that happens, we’ve got the two-bellwether states of Iowa and New Hampshire. No matter what current polling data says, both those states will go for Romney and that will set him down the yellow brick road. He may not have the actual delegates lined up by Super Tuesday then but once it seems that he is the only one who can win other states will follow in line.

Handicapping the vice president is much harder. No one runs for vice president. Republican presidential nominees are notorious for NOT picking a Veep candidate who also ran for president. The last time it was done was 1996 when Bob Dole picked Jack Kemp as Bob Dole’s running mate. Before that in 980 when Ronald Reagan, blessed be his name, picked George H. W. Bush. Right now, I am putting a small wager at long odds on Herman Cain to be Romney’s Veep selection. I am not saying bet the farm on this, just wager wisely, with whomever you make book.

Sure, a lot can change in the next few months. There are still 14 more debates scheduled, I am not kidding. Romney has not had the hard media glare on him, yet. Others have wilted under the strain and the barrage of “gotcha questions, like: did you sexually harass women at Godfathers Pizza. Once under the microscope Romney will have to come up with good answers on his ever-shifting stances on all the issue. Then there is the Mormon thing.

It’s going to be an interesting election cycle, and the best place to get the digested truth is Pure Gibberish.

 

Final note, Happy 18th Birthday to my nephew Nathan. When you see him, make sure you check out the ultra cool and hip time piece he is sporting.

Fun Facts about Wombats

21 October 2011

October 22 is Wombat Day. I know, it seems like yesterday it was Wombat Day. Sadly it only comes around once a year. I have compiled some interesting tidbits to help you get to know your little marsupial friends.

There are four species of Wombats:

Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus)

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat or Yaminon (Lasiorhinus krefftii)

Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons)

Southern Blue/grey-eyed Wombat (Alissorhinus Flumin)

Wombats do not like leaving their comfort zone.

Wombats are Australian marsupials; they are short-legged, muscular quadrupeds, approximately 1 meter in length with a short, stubby tail.

Wombats are musical.  They can play the piano, piccolo and oboe.

Wombats dig extensive burrow systems with rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws.

Playing the Baby Game with a wombat is a great way to spend an afternoon.

The wombat’s backwards pouch allows them when digging to not gather dirt in its pouch over its young.

Wombats get into arguments with pigs.

Although mainly crepuscular and nocturnal, wombats also venture out to feed on cool or overcast days.

The wombat will drop everything if a bluebird is around.

The Wombat’s diet consists mostly of grasses, sedges, herbs, bark and roots.

Wombats can tell time but they never remember their bed time.

Wombats’ fur color can vary from a sandy color to brown, or from grey to black.

One strawberry satisfies a hungry wombat.

Humans who accidentally find themselves in an affray with a wombat may find it best to scale a tree until the animal calms and leaves.

Wombats cannot ride a bicycle.

Dingos and Tasmanian Devils prey on wombats.

Wombats should not be allowed to talk to males until they are at least 35-years-old.

When attacked, wombats dive into a nearby tunnel, using their rump to block a pursuing attacker.

Even if it is 100 degrees outside, it is recommended that a wombat wear a sweater.

Wombats have poor eyesight.

Wombats like to sleep in old Peachtree Road Race t-shirts.

Wombats look somewhat like a little bear. A little bear is also called a cub.

Never correct a wombat because they are too stubborn to see your point.

Wombats do donkey kicks to defend their selves.

Bears and wombats are best friends forever.

Individual wombats live in a series of burrows called warrens.

Pigs and wombats are beyond best friends forever.

There you go. Happy Wombat Day.

 

Here we are now, entertain us

25 September 2011

It’s Tuesday, September 24, 1991, select records stores in the Pacific Northwest are opening boxes from the DGC Records. A new release is hitting the stores from a band known to locals and few others. The band’s first album, Bleach sold about 40,000 copies, enough to draw interest from a major. The original pressing for the new release is 100,000 copies with more than ½ going to the U.K. The following week Nevermind enters the Billboard 200 album charts at number 144.

It’s Tuesday, September 24, 1991, in the Pacific Northwest, Kurt Cobain, lead singer and guitarist for the Seattle band Nirvana, packs his shit in garbage bags and tosses it into the back of his beater of a car. He is being evicted for not paying his bills.

It’s Tuesday, September 24, 1991, I am inside Rose Records on Broadway in Chicago. I purchase two new cassettes: Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blow Up by The Smithereens. I was on the cusp of the cutting edge baby.

It’s January 11, 1992, Nevermind unseats Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album as the number one album in the country. During those three and a half months, the music industry went through a change that was last seen in 1964 with the Beatles.

Unlike The Beatles seismic shift, sometimes called “The Big Bang” Nirvana’s rise was slow but like The Beatles, the change would have ramifications that would affect everything from music to clothes to elections.

About A Band

Bleach the first album released in 1989 had a 1970’s sound that seemed to be stuck in the mud. There were a few decent songs including a cover of the Shocking Blue song “Love Buzz” and bass-laden but lyrically tender and sweet “About a Girl.” Released on the indie Sub Pop label; distribution was limited. At the time, Sub Pop was the Sun Records of its day. Bands like Sonic Youth, Naked Raygun, L7, Soundgarden and Mudhoney all called Sub Pop home. After the “success” of Bleach and growing dissatisfaction with Sub Pop, Nirvana went looking for a new label. On the advice of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, they signed with DGC.

In early the summer 1990, the band met producer Butch Vig. He was already a veteran of Smashing Pumpkin’s own indie release Gish. He was slick maybe too slick for Cobain’s liking. The record company had a few other suggestions like R.E.M.’s current producer Scott Litt, R.E.M.’s original producer Don Dixon and Neil Young’s knob-turner David Briggs. Cobain agreed on Vig. Loaded with $64,000 budget, recording began in April 1991.

The original intent for Nevermind was to record a heavy/punk album with a few pop songs sprinkled in. Cobain was always trying to grow his base. He may have played disaffected rocker but he wanted stardom. Cobain was entranced with style of The Pixies style of which featured the loud-quite-loud approach to music. To pay for gas money to the session in LA, the band took a gig in April 17, 1991 at the OK Hotel in Seattle, Washington. At that show the performed their newest song, something called “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The song was released on September 10, 1991. Like Nirvana’s previous efforts, it was ignored. Well not entirely. College radio picked it up and ran with it. Soon the few modern rock stations in the country, including Seattle’s 107.9 The End, LA’s KROQ and Chicago’s WXRT got a hold of it. By mid-October, MTV’s late-night alternative rock program 120 Minutes premiered the video. The anarchy of that video kick started sales, which forced radio to take a listen. Soon the song crossed over to rock and hard rock stations across the country.

Kids everywhere wanted the album but DGC ran out quickly. DGC ordered more but the demand soon outpaced the supply. By November the album was certified Gold, 500,000 copies sold. The first chart after the Christmas holiday Nevermind hit number one, supplanting Michael Jackson. At the time, Nirvana was touring Europe and had no idea how big they had become. Kurt Cobain would never again have to worry about a place to live.

How it became number one is a great story of power to the people. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, had released Dangerous. Parents and grandparents, being out of touch as to what their young-uns are listening to bought Michael’s latest thinking they were going to show how hip they were. On Christmas morning, kids all over the country opened up their gifts and said, “Great. Thanks. I can’t wait to play it. By the way, did you save the receipt?” The next week all those kids went to their local record store and traded in the obvious mistake for what they really wanted. Nevermind may be the first album in history to reach number one based on returns.

As MTV played all the videos, they got the chance to exploit a new audience. In fact, the network became thee place for politicians to get their message out. Then candidate Bill Clinton participated in the networks “Choose or Lose” campaign encouraging 20 million young people to vote. They did and Clinton won. Nevermind gaveMTV entre into those young people.

When one looked at Nirvana, a rock band was the last thing you saw. Cobain was thin with a shock of blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. He always looked unkempt. The bass player, Krist Novoselic was 6’7” with long stingy black hair. He also sported a look of the guy who just finished changing your brake pads than a guy who was laying down the heavy bottom. Drummer Dave Grohl with his fresh face and long hair that flailed as he attacked the drums could have been the guy who just finished his shift washing dishes at a diner.

Then there were the clothes. They proudly wore ripped jeans and old t-shirts underneath a faded flannel shirt. An image consultant was not involved in the wardrobe choice. They looked like the clothes they wore was all the owned. Seizing the opportunity, Sears begin modeling this look; it was called “Grunge.” Soon scene-stealing hipsters were paying $50-75 for a faux faded flannel shirt. What chumps.

The success of Nevermind meaning the financial dividends the album paid also brought a rapid response from the radio and music industry. Stations with a dying audience and format soon switched to the new brand called “Alternative.” In Chicago, A/C leaning top 40 station Q101 was one of the first to flip in mid-1992. It recently abandoned the format after almost 19 years. In Atlanta, top 40 flame thrower Power 99 become 99X in September of 1992. They dominated the ratings for a good decade before it all went downhill.

Major record companies, almost overnight, were dispatching their top Artists and Repertoire (A&R) people to Seattle to find the next big thing. Local bands up there who were on indie labels soon found unctuous record company types begging them to sign with the big boys.

Change was afoot and nothing was going to stop it.

How could a band whose previous release sell 40,000 now have a number one album? How could three guys you wouldn’t let park your car become the biggest band in the world?

How can a band that no one had ever heard of be this popular?

How did this happen with no marketing?

Easy, the kids spoke! The sound was infectious. The angst and rebellion that so many of the Generation X’ers were feeling was summed up in one album. The 12 million copies it sold represented the same amount of people born 1964-1984 who were raised by single parents. People who were forced to accept the leftovers of The Reagan Revolution. People who were picked on in school, weaklings, nerds, geeks and those who didn’t fit in had finally found their representative.

When you look at rock and roll at the time is was pathetic. The Rolling Stones were still a relevant band; they were in their late 40’s in 1991. Top 40 had more forgettable songs then memorable ones. Even the year-end WXRT Listener Poll of 1990 featured more geezer rock (Paul Simon, The Vaughan Brothers, and Neil Young) than new rock (Midnight Oil and World Party).

The release and success of Nevermind put the Baby Boomers in the non-relevant section, for the first time since The Beatles in 1964, a place they deserved to be for a long time.

The other casualty was hair bands. Bands known for having more hair product and guitar solos than musical ability found themselves without gigs. Bands like Cinderella, Dokken, Warrant, Slayer, Skid Row and White Snake who could fill 20,000 seat sheds in 1991 had trouble getting a 500-seat club date six months later.

Nevermind was record of the year according to major music magazines like: Spin, Rolling Stone and The Village Voice.

Come As You Are

As mentioned, the opening track was the anti-anthem. Kids understood the angst that Cobain was feeling. They also understood that the media was there to entertain and frankly, they weren’t doing a good job of it. Sonically, the song followed the Pixies loud-quite-loud pattern. Then there was the guitar solo, which was actually the chorus. I am hard pressed to come up with songs that follow that formula. Lastly, there was the great guitar riff that opens the song. It may not be the best of all time but name a better one in the following since the song debuted.

The third song, “Come as You Are” was all the invitation that Generation X needed. With the opening lines:

“Come as you are, as you were,
As I want you to be
As a friend, as a friend, as an old enemy
Take your time, hurry up
The choice is yours, don’t be late
Take a rest as a friend as an old memoria”

Cobain was saying the same thing DeeDee Ramone wrote in “Pineheads,” “Gabba gabba we accept you, we accept you, one of us.”

Nirvana didn’t care who you were, they wanted you to listen and get their music. The suicide of Cobain in 1994 made the final lines of the song “And I swear that I don’t have a gun

No I don’t have a gun,” take on much different meaning.

The song that drew the most controversy was “Polly,” a soft, mostly acoustic song that was actually a holdover from sessions in Madison WI. The subject matter was hard to digest – rape, kidnapping and torture. It was told from the point of view of the abductor. Rather than taking up his rage and anger, Cobain manages to get into the antagonist’s mind as Polly finally escapes.

“Polly says her back hurts

And she’s just as bored as me

She caught me off my guard

It amazes me, the will of instinct”

My favorite video and one that illustrates to comparisons to The Beatles is “In Bloom.” Rather than echoing the hysteria of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the hysteria is taken from old black and white footage from the 1960’s. The band comes out looking like “thoroughly all right and decent fellas.” They run through the song and then these nice young men change into the punks that they really are, wearing dresses and trashing the instruments, Still the kids in b&w love it. In 1993, “In Bloom: took home the MTV Alternative Video of the Year.

Some albums are timeless, meaning that they sound fresh today as the day you heard them. Nevermind is not. When I hear the album, as I did repeatedly whilst composing this entry, it brought me back to a certain time. I was transported back to 1991. I remembered all the sounds coming out of my radio at the time. I thought about the people I knew at the time and how I have lost touch with most of them.

In 2011, Nevermind is a relic of the past. Nirvana, despite changing everything, you never hear them on the radio, maybe one or two songs on the few remaining Alternative radio stations. Grohl now fronts the inferior Foo Fighters; they have sold more records than Nirvana but haven’t had 1/100th of the impact. Novoselic left music for the most part. He is a political activist in Washington, fighting the good fight for the environment and voting rights issues. The spirit of 1991 is long gone in so many ways. A&R guys don’t look for new bands; it’s done on TV with “American Idol,” “The X-Factor” and “The Voice.” Image is everything now. A band like Nirvana couldn’t make it the way they did in 1991. For a brief time, substance mattered and the suits could not figure out how to corrupt it.

 

Ten Years After

11 September 2011

On September 7, 2001, Alt-Country musician Ryan Adams filmed a video for his new song “New York, New York,” The video was released on September 11, 2001. It was to be the last time we would see the World Trade Center intact. Every image there after showed the famed buildings with a hole in it, or on fire, or a plane being flown in to it and eventually coming down one floor at a time.

At 9:00 am on September 11, 2001, I heard a news report, a plane crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I thought nothing of it at the time. Probably a Cessna flew too low in the fog. It was barely worth talking about it. Less than an hour later, I was watching the TV and hearing Dan Rather say, “That’s it; the World Trade Center is no more.” What an absurd statement.

We were all sent home from work at about 11:00 am. I guess my company thought the terrorists next target was going to be a 12-story office building in NW Atlanta. Anyway, I got the day off and the next day and the day after that and the day after that too. A paid six-day vacation but not really.

Like you, I was welded to my couch watching TV and listening to radio. I tried to consume everything I could. I must have watched the horrific video over 200 times. I could not help it. It was so compelling. Never before had we witnessed such an attack. Never before have we seen television cover it so vividly. Never before had anyone see 10,000 people die! It was everywhere too. Sure all the news and broadcast networks were doing their coverage but the story was so big that the basic cable stations owned by the networks were taking the feed too. USA had NBC’s feed, TNN took CBS’s feed and SOAP picked up ABC’s network coverage. Even the MTV networks were airing CBS.

Over on CBS, I saw a familiar face, Carol Marin, the venerated Chicago reporter who was working for the network in New York at the time, appeared on their broadcast. She was covered in soot from the recently collapsed buildings. I had interned with her in 1987 and found her to the consummate professional. Now, talking to Rather, she related how she was covering another story then the planes hit. She and her cameraman then were re-assigned to THEE story. As the buildings fell, she had to flee for her life, like everyone else, from that huge cloud of debris. She told how a firefighter grabbed her and shielded her in a doorway from the cloud as it passed by. If not for that firefighter, she would have been a casualty.

I kept flipping channels while also listening to the radio. 99X, Atlanta’s Alternative station, was running CNN but also the immensely informative midday host, Steve Craig was chiming in when necessary. At the time, 99X catered to angry kids who wanted to hear Korn and Limp Bizkit. Craig is a pilot and his insights into the actual crash were better than anything else being broadcast. I can only imagine some of the calls they could not air, “Dude man, play some Nickelback already, I wanna smash shit.”

As the night wore on the story turned into getting President Bush back to the White House. He had an early morning photo-op scheduled for a school in Florida, you remember, the state that gave him the election 10 months earlier. He was reading to school kids when he was informed what happened. After being told, “A second plane hit the second Tower. America is under attack.” Bush sat there, in the classroom for another seven minutes “reading” from a book, “My Pet Goat.” The book was upside down. What was he doing those seven minutes? Why didn’t one of his handlers get him out of there? The filmmaker Michael Moore stated in his documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11”

Was he wondering if maybe he should have shown up to work more often? Should he have held at least one meeting since taking office to discuss the threat of terrorism with his head of counterterrorism? Maybe Bush wondered why he had cut terrorism funding from the FBI. Or perhaps he just should have read the security briefing that was given to him on August 6th, 2001 which said Osama bin Laden was planning to attack America by hijacking airplanes. Maybe he wasn’t worried, because the title of the report was too vague. I believe the title was “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.” As the minutes went by, George Bush continued to sit in the classroom. Was he thinking, “I’ve been hanging out with the wrong crowd. Which one of them screwed me? Was it the guy my daddy’s friends delivered a lot of weapons to? Was it that group of religious fundamentalists who visited my state when I was governor? Or was it the Saudis? Damn. It was them. I think I better blame it on this guy.”

From the school in Florida, he was whisked away in Air Force One to a military base in Louisiana. After all the planes around the world were grounded, Bush made his way to another base in Nebraska. Finally, he came back to the White House in time for bed. It was important for him to be there. I even wanted the president in the White House that night. Kind of like the line in the national anthem, “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”

The next morning I awoke hoping that the day before did not happen. Maybe we weren’t attacked. Nope. They still weren’t there. After another two hours of being stuck to my couch, I got up and washed my car. It was eerie. No planes were flying. Occasionally, I would see a few jet fighters from Dobbins Naval Air Base. I talked to another apartment dweller for a bit. He was a former ABC cameraman, as a journalist he too was engrossed by the events. That whole day I wondered, when we would return to normal. I also wondered what would normal be?

I have no dog in the fight. I have never been to New York City. I have never seen the World Trade Center. Truth be told, I though the buildings were bland and ugly. It was rectangle, I drew one when I was four-years-old; no one used that design for a building. Was I pissed that this happened? Hell ya! I too wanted revenge but against who or whom? My fear at the time is that our president would do something rash. He would make uninformed decisions and we would be at war.

That point was made clear on the Friday of that week when Bush stood on the pile with a megaphone promising, “The people who did this will hear from us, soon.” People? Sounds like he knew who did it, intimately. That couldn’t be right? I am not going to go off on the whole conspiracy thing. I refuse to believe that a sitting US President would a) orchestrate an attack on this country or b) know about it and do nothing to stop it. With that being said, I think we all know that after the attacks Bush, Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their ilk were ready to take advantage of the situation. Security was stepped up everywhere and our freedoms were slowly taken away. Freedom of Speech was no longer a right; it was to be used cautiously.

Oh, yes, the pendulum effect was moving too fast to be controlled. Everywhere you went there was heightened security. At Turner Field, no one was allowed to bring in anything. If you showed up with a bag or purse, you were turned around. Water was confiscated. They peeked under your hats; you had to turn your cell phone on and off.

We needed some stepped up security. The last time before the attacks I was at the airport, security consisted of guy in a suit at the Delta at baggage check-in asking me if I packed my own bags. Now with the new “security measures” at Hartsfield-Jackson we are subjected to all kinds of poking and prodding. The good news is that the colonoscopy came back negative.

Right after the attacks out country went through a fundamental change, we were nicer and more tolerant of each other. When driving people would let you merge. No one cut any one off on Cobb Parkway. When a fire truck rolled by cars moved out of the way. Cops and firefighters were seen as heroes, and rightly so. Yes, we were attacked but it brought us together as a nation. We were going to get through it. Maybe we would be a better place because of it. Civility would be restored and we could overcome our differences.

Then it happened, our national pride soon turned to national arrogance. That ridiculous USA USA USA!! chant was everywhere and for no reason. We had concerts and rallies to tell us mostly, but the world as well, that the US was the greatest country ever and your country sucked. Even as the stock market plunged in record amounts and fortunes made during the dot.com bubble were erased in a matter of minutes, they were still out there chanting USA USA USA!! Patriotism had gone amuck. It became Nationalism and then J (Hey RAD, how about that word huh?) Here we were, bruised and battered yet we were boasting like we just won a fight against the toughest kid in the schoolyard. Everywhere you looked, you saw an American flag. They were on cars, on pins, on drink cups from Mickey D’s and t-shirts. Everyone was trying to out love America each other.

After a week of solid news coverage, the networks decided to get back to normal. We all looked to late-night comedians to help us with this next phase. Could we ever get to the point where we would laugh?

The first one was David Letterman, on his first show opened with him sitting at the desk. There was no open or traditional monologue. What he said and how he said it set the tone for everything that came after wards. It ended with Rather breaking down on the set and asking Dave to throw to commercial.

Little known host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart came back on September 20, 2011. Stewart’s apartment in the West Village had a view of the World Trade Center. He bravely talked about the toll it took on him emotionally knowing that the buildings and the people were gone. As he sobbed between sentences, he mentioned the new view he had, The Statue of Liberty. He was hopeful that he, the city and the country could get though it all.

When ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” host Bill Maher came back, he was the first to stir a controversy. One of his guests for the show scheduled to tape on September 11, 2001 was conservative pundit Barbara Olson. Olson was a passenger on American Airlines flight 77 flight, the plane that flew into the Pentagon. Maher left her seat vacant for a week in her honor. As the topic turned to the attacks, one of the guests quoted the president saying the attacks were cowardly. Maher piped up saying, “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”

That statement set off a whole firestorm that got White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to denounce Maher and issue a warning that “people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.” Eventually. advertisers left and ABC had no choice but to pull the plug on Maher.  For what it’s worth, I still agree with him.

The 20th century’s best observer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,  wrote on September 12, 2001 on espn.com’s page 2:

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive “figurehead” — or even dead, for all we know — but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.

Nothing — even George Bush’s $350 billion “Star Wars” missile defense system — could have prevented Tuesday’s attack, and it cost next to nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.

This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.

Good luck. He is in for a profoundly difficult job — armed as he is with no credible Military Intelligence, no witnesses and only the ghost of Bin Laden to blame for the tragedy.

I wanted to get a younger perspective on this so I asked my adorable 13-year-old niece Alissa why the attacks happened. Her response was “People don’t like each other.” I know it sounds naive but at the core, she is correct. Have we as a country done anything to bridge the hate gap? We went from being the most-beloved country on the planet to the most-hated in a matter of years, mostly as the result of starting two wars.

Listen to talk radio. Commentators on both sides make their living by calling the other horrific names. While it is for the sake of ratings, they do not understand or care about the collateral damage. Disagreeing with a political statement can now get you beaten, shunned or banished. This started with the aftermath of the attacks.

I fear for all my nieces and nephews and their entire generation. They will be living in a different world than the one where I was raised. We know our enemy, those godless commies. Their enemy is unseen, has no physical boarders to defend and their war has no definitive victory. It may be a war that they fight her entire life.

Its ten years after the attacks. The good feelings we had towards one another have been eroded by our God given right to be angry at each other. The wars that were started to root out evil still have no end in sight. They have cost over $3.7 trillion and close to 6,000 lives. President Bush who once held a 93% approval rating left in 2008 with a 22%. The Weapons of Mass Destruction that Bush assured us that Iraq was hiding turned out to not exist. Those brave first responders and those who volunteered to clean up the debris are being denied health benefits for cancer by our government. Apparently, there is not enough scientific evidence that exposure to toxic substances cause cancer. We have had new words and phrases enter our national vocabulary: Ground Zero, War on Terror, Gitmo, The Patriot Act, Anthrax, Abu Ghraib, Homeland security, Orange alert, Waterboarding and Freedom fries.

Eventually the events will be trivialized. There will be a new national tragedy to take its place. A Hollywood blockbuster movie will be made that focusing on the heroics of a NYC cop and an NYC firefighter who rush into the building to save the woman they both love. The Maine, The Alamo, and Pearl Harbor fell to those fates so why not 9/11? Some events, like Black Tom, have been forgotten altogether.

I hope we can all get back to the days after 9/11 as a country. One where we were civil to each other. Where we cared about our fellow-man. Where we stood by our country. If we did it once under trying times, why can’t we do it again?

I spent the better part of the summer of 1981 in a rowboat as a lifeguard at Leone Beach. I got the job from my Clout at the Chicago Park District. It was an easy gig. I would sit in small boat, get a tan and listen to the radio. Should someone go under, I was instructed to follow the  protocol – Reach, Throw, Row, Go.

This particular August day as special because The Rolling Stones new single “Start Me Up” was released for radio airplay. It was on every station. If I timed it right, I could flip from WXRT to WLS-FM to WMET to B96 to WLUP and hear the song five times in an hour.

After working until 9:30 pm, I got on my bike and rode one mile up Touhy Ave to Ridge Blvd; the place where all my stuff was housed. I was off the next two days and I was looking forward to doing nothing. On my bed was a note, “Call Dana.” This referred to Dana Altman, a fellow detainee at Roycemore Juvenile Reformatory School. We were pals during the school year. I had no idea what she wanted.

“John Goritsas died!”

I was stunned. How, when, what happened? That was my immediate response.

She proceeded to tell me the details. He was mowing the lawn with an electric lawn mower, the grass was wet and the cord was frayed. He was electrocuted. He was probably two weeks away from starting classes at Northwestern. He was going into medicine to be an Endocrinologist (suck it; I spelled it right without spell check!) He was accepted as a junior.

I couldn’t believe it, not because he was the first of my peers to die. It was because we just studied electricity in A.P.  Physics not more than two months earlier. How utterly stupid of him.

To those of us who knew John, “stupid” was not a word ever used to describe him. John graduated our little school at age 16, as Valedictorian. He skipped one grade as a kid and what would have been his senior year. Every year  we had an awards assembly on the last day of school, John would win almost every prize. It didn’t matter if it was Science, Math, English or History. He got them all in his three years. I think he even won Best Girl’s Volleyball Player in 1980. To prove that he was human, John would purposely take off three days in spring. He told me he didn’t want the “geek” attendance award. The smartest kid who ever walked the halls didn’t want to be known as a geek, who does that?

We met freshman year. We bonded because the previous summer I went to Greece and he was Greek. He was impressed that I knew about his homeland and I could work the worry beads. John was taller than I was, so were most third graders, and had a thick clump of dark hair. At 14-years-old, he could grow a mustache and beard. Strong Mediterranean blood I would guess. His clothes seemed to be an afterthought, as well as brushing his hair. It ranked pretty low on his priority scale.

He was an amazing kid; incredibly gifted in all areas of academics and a decent soccer player with talented feet. When it came to organization however, he was a total mess. Most of his school books would bulge from the papers folded length wise that he stuck in them. Homework for Algebra may be in a history book. There may be 10-15 pages all folded together. It could be notes, homework or an assignment, who knew. He was forever putting pens in his books. He never had one on him, always in a book. His hands had pen marks all over them. Not as if he was a writing note to himself, more like he aimed for the paper but his hand was in the way.

He was an out-spoken brainiac too. He rubbed many people the wrong way, including myself sometimes. I think fellow detainees were intimidated by his mind. It’s not like he did a victory dance when he got an A; he was cocky about it because he expected it.

Studying with him was always an experience. Whatever the subject, he got it first. He would let you copy his homework if you could read his handwriting. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. After looking at his work, he would then explain how he got the answer. It was annoying at first but after time you realized he was teaching us too. I wonder what it was like for him, he was smarter than the teachers were; he knew it and so did they.

His other great skill was debate. Not a skill one would expect from a scientist. He was exasperating as a debater too. He was loud, dramatic, confrontational and conservative. At our liberal school that put him in the minority. At the 1980 political debates that the school held, he spoke for Ronald Reagan. He must have done a good job because Reagan tied Carter in our school election.

Our school was involved in a program called State Youth & Government, a mock government program that gave high schoolers an insight into government. It culminated with the students taking over the Illinois State House in Springfield, IL. Our advisor was the incomparable Richard Davis. He taught us the finer points of debate. His method was to back up our argument with facts. He never had us prepare speeches, just facts. Debating against John was good practice for when we would eventually mix it up in Springfield.

John was emotional when he argued. He would pound on the table, talk louder and louder to be heard and hated having his point stricken down. Debate, not arguing, was our main past time. You had to know not only your argument but also your opponents. There were many times where Richard would say, now argue against it. Imagine John Boehner coming out for more taxes on “Job Creators” or Nancy Pelosi saying water boarding is not torture?

In Springfield, John was a force. Inside our delegation, we couldn’t stand him, because he was philosophically against us but once he was let loose we all loved him because he was from the Evanston contingent. The only people who had a chance against him was our delegation and we were not going to do it. We would rather best him in our tribe because only we could appreciate his frustration.

It was in Springfield that he did something that showed he was indeed human – talk to a girl. I saw him from the balcony of my room in the Holidome. He was engaged in a conversation with a girl. At the time I thought, “Good for him.” I may have kidded him about it later, I don’t remember.

I pulled out the Griffin Yearbook and found the last thing he wrote to me, “Mr. Millman, I don’t know why I like you, but I think you’re a really cool guy. J.G.” Before he graduated, he warned us all that his little sister, Anna would be joining us next school year. She would start as a junior.

The day after I found out he died, I rode my bike to his house. Maybe it was morbid curiosity. I wanted to see the yard. I walked around to the back to see the scene. There was the lawnmower and the partially mowed lawn. I dared not knock on the door, I had no right and I had no idea what to say. After 30 years, I can still see it.

His death had an immediate effect on me – apathy. I stopped caring about many things. If this brilliant kid, one whose future was assured, could be taken away just like that, why should I try, what was the point? My senior year was about having fun, making an occasional appearance in my classes, causing mayhem, going to Rocky Horror with Jeff Bramson every weekend, editing the yearbook, running for Speaker of the House in State Youth & Government (I won by a landslide in a four-way race; 265-63-50-35.) and chasing freshman Angel Landrigan around the halls. (I failed miserably but she and I remain friends.)

When my senior year started, Anna Goritsas was there as promised. She had a rough go. Instead of being welcomed, she was shunned. How do you talk to a girl whose brother just died? We all walked on eggshells around her. I asked asking a teacher about her because I did want to talk to her but I didn’t know how to start. She said, just talk to her.

One day, after school, she was sitting on a bench outside of the main classrooms in the Upper School, the place backpacks where thrown before going to the cafeteria for lunch. (Please note: I didn’t know we had a cafeteria until well into my third year, I always ate off campus). I seized the opportunity and talked to her. We ended up chatting for a few hours. I remember telling her not only the good but the bad and annoying things her brother. She wasn’t crying at all, in fact, she was laughing. It turned out that her brother at home was similar to the person we knew at school. He did the same things there that he did with us.

I wouldn’t say Anna and I became great friends. We traveled in different circles, not to say I perceived myself as better than her; rather, she was, oh what’s the word – SMART! She always gave me a look when I did something childish and immature, which was quite often. Regardless, when yearbook time came around she wound up writing a whole page! She thanked me for my honesty regarding her brother; she also spent a ½ page deriding me for being a prep.

From time to time, I think about John. I imagine him being a great doctor, a researcher who would have advocated for new technologies and treatments. I also imagine he would have been thrown out of a few places due to infuriating patients, nurses, administration etc. I could only imagine the joy he would have felt when Greece won 2004 European Football Championships.

When I was in my early 20’s I had a dream about him. We were sitting in the gallery of the Illinois House of Representatives. I asked him, “What’s heaven like?”

He replied, “It’s like down here but it’s up there.”

I hope he’s right.

The Shape I’m In

26 July 2011

My financial analyst told me that I will run out of money a week from today. There is no way around it. My bills and interest payments are more than my income.

How did I get into this mess? Gradually and then suddenly. (A crisp $1 bill for anyone who gets that reference)

You may not know it but I am a violent person. I have been getting into fights since I was born. In fact, just after I was born, there was this Asian baby who didn’t look right to me so I started a fight with him and his whole family. It lasted another 10 years but eventually I ended it, I called it “Peace with Honor.”

While that skirmish was going on, I was fighting with this Russian family too. Our fight was more posturing than actual fisticuffs. After 27 years, the Ruskie folded and I was declared the winner.

There were other minor fights along the way, I once got into a fight with this guy from the Caribbean. It only lasted a week and I ended up driving his family around for most of it.

Around 10 years ago, I was at home, washing my car and minding my own business when BAM, these 19 highly trained ninjas from Marietta, GA beat the living shit out of me. I was in the hospital for a number of weeks. In fact, there was some concern whether I would ever walk again. While I was out of it; celebrities and musicians held a concert and telethon for me. Yes, it was lame but the thought was nice. After much time, I got back up on my feet.

That beat down got me mad and vengeful. I found out that those guys from Marietta were actually trained in Kennesaw, GA. The first thing I did was attack those sum bitches in Kennesaw, even though the people who lived there weren’t the guys who kicked my ass.

A few years later, while this fight with Kennesaw was going one, I was visiting Alpharetta, GA. I really had to pee and I drove by a house where I stayed once in the 1990’s. I asked if I could tour the house and use their bathroom. The people who lived there were total douches and said no! I asked and asked and asked but the stood firm that I was not going to enter their house to use their bathroom.

I did what anyone would do in this situation; I stormed in and totally trashed their place. They resisted at first but finally I did get to use their bathroom. I have now occupied that house for eight years and there is no end in sight.

Aside from these two fights I have going on; I do take care of a few other responsibilities. My grandparents have various medical issues and being a good grandson, I am taking care of all their medical bills. My parents are close to retiring and I have been setting money aside for them every week. Soon they will begin collecting this money that will take them to the end of their lives.

I have a safety net fund set up too. I usually put aside some money if I become unemployed. In addition, I try to give some money to local schools to educate the youngsters; after all, I believe the children are our future.

Due to my overspending, I have had to take out some loans. As the economy tumbled, I haven’t had the chance to pay them back; I can barely afford the minimum payments on the interest.

Lastly, I spend what little is left over on the arts, buying books, car repair, doctors bills, giving to veterans and paying my usual bills.

According to my financial analyst, I have to make some hard choices. My income is split up this way:

-        40% goes to taking care of my parents and grandparents.

-        20% to rent, bills etc

-        20% goes to my on-going fights but that keeps rising.

-        14% goes into my Safety Net.

-        The interest payments are 6% of my budget.

If I lower the amount I give to my parents and grandparents they will be pissed off, disinherit me and get all their friends to write bad things about me on Facebook.

My rent, gas and bills can’t be cut in fact they keep going up. I can’t move to a cheaper place, it took me all my life to get to where I am and I don’t want to move back home. Besides, if I stop funding my parents, they won’t welcome me back with open arms.

I can’t really stop my fights because the job isn’t done yet. I don’t know when the job will be done and there is no real time table for it to be completed. In addition, if I don’t continue these fights, I run the risk of someone else could start a fight with me and I will need more money to defend myself.

The safety net can be cut a little but a lot of people depend on me for those funds. Cutting that would be like cutting them off of life support.

I could cut the interest payments but if I do my creditors will be taking everything I own back.

The other option I was forced with was increasing the cost that people pay to be my friend on Facebook or read my blog. I have broached the subject with a few of them but I was met with immediate and strong resistance. All of my Facebook friends and Pure Gibberish readers have banded together and formed APE. Already Paid Enough!

This is my dilemma. On August 2, 2011, I run out of money. My income will no longer be able to pay all of my commitments. I can’t make the cuts and I can’t have me friends and readers pay for the privilege of my writings. What do you think I should do? I will entertain any and all suggestions.

This may be the last Pure Gibberish for a long, long, long time unless I can come up with a solution in a week.

It’s a Hootenanny

The sweaty and assembled masses were probably expecting one last hit before the band left the stage; maybe “Alex Chilton” or “Left of the Dial” or “Unsatisfied” or “Bastards of the Young.” Instead, we got “Hootenanny” for three and a half minutes. About halfway through the song something wasn’t right; the guitars sounded like Marty McFly was disappearing at the end of “Back to the Future.” The song collapsed, the show was over, and there was no final goodbye, just – nothing. Only later did we find out that the band left the stage and had the roadies take over for them. The band wasn’t even on stage to give a final . Perhaps, that was the best way for The Mats to go out. A grand gesture that represented their entire career.

It certainly wasn’t a great show; the Mats were never capable of that. In fact, the worse the show; the better the show. Seeing a Mats show without an incident was like hearing Sarah Palin speak without a malapropism. They were known for getting drunk on stage and forgetting the lyrics – to their own songs! I had seen them six months earlier with Dan at the always-adventurous Aragon Ballroom. The sound was shitty, the lyrics in audible and at one point the guy running the spot light lost sight of Westerberg, prompting him to say, “I’m up here asshole.”

The final show lasted a little over an hour and the band labored though most of it. Rather than playing the hits, they focused on the “new” album, which at that point was just under a year old. Everyone who was going to buy it had already done so. Those in Grant Park that July afternoon were fans anyway; there was a slim chance of any new coverts.

When it began

I met Dan Callistein at work in late 1990; we shared the same musical spirit and sense of humor. He moved from Buffalo and immediately became a Chicagoan. He rooted for Da Bulls and Cubs, adapted to the weather and started listening to WXRT. He introduced me to the Goo Goo Dolls before they became a wuss band (exhibit a, b, and c: “Naked,” “Name” and “Iris”). It was six days after the final Mats show when I was hospitalized with Thripshaw’s Disease. He collected money for a care package, a gift certificate for tapes. Later, he told me his cousin was a leading doctor treating Thripshaw’s Disease. Dan was a mate through and through.

That summer, he was lucky enough to meet Marla Adler. She had a pageboy hair cut, a killer smile, was funny and a little flirtatious. I had been a third wheel with them a few times and Marla never made me feel like one. She was the Elaine to our Jerry and George. I am not saying who was who but suffice to say, I won a bet.

July 4, 1991 – Dan and I were to go to Grant Park to see the show. Marla was going to try to meet up with us, though neither of us thought that was possible. We were one 100,000 people that afternoon. This was before cell phones were so pervasive. She wasn’t going to find us. I don’t think they were  officially a couple. The town elders had not yet sanctified it. That was okay, who needs dames when you have a good buddy, beer and concertgoers who have baked in the sun for three hours?

After the first act, Material Issue, Marla found us! I don’t know who was more shocked between the three of us. She brought a friend with her because single girls never travel alone. Marla also came prepared with a little blanket that we all got under when the skies opened up in a refreshing but brief summer rain.

At one point, we got to talking about Chicago Architecture. We were admiring the old Standard Oil Building, at the north end of Grant Park. It had recently undergone a new façade and a name change. Marla, being stiff-necked, disagreed about the name change. A wager was placed that the new name was the Amoco Oil Building (It has since been renamed the Aon Center). Ducats for “Naked Gun 2 1/2” were on the line. Of course, I won. What she didn’t know was that I took an architecture boat tour three days earlier and found out the name had changed. So now, 20 years later, I admit the truth. Marla, if you make it down to Atlanta, I owe you a movie. She is probably packing a bag and booking a flight to collect.

Close your eyes here we go

The Replacements or The Placemats or simply The Mats, were an acquired taste. This was not a professional band, unless you consider alcohol and drug abuse a profession. They modeled their sound after Big Star (see an earlier Pure Gibberish entry), The Beatles, The Faces and The Clash. They started out in the hot bed of music – Minneapolis, MN, home of Prince. Their sound was raucous and loud. Early songs leaned towards punk and hardcore and. Lyrics dealt with anger, mayhem, being busted at a party, hating your school, lousy jobs and smoking weeds. There was no uniformity in appearance or sound. They looked like four guys who met 30 minutes before the gig and had a vague idea of what to play.

On their second release, “Hootenanny”, teen angst gave way to 20’s idealism, lead singer and songwriter Paul Westerberg started to grow. The highlight of this period is the striped down ballad “Within Your Reach.”

“Cold without so much

Can die without a dream

Live without your touch

I’ll die within your reach”

They may have been toning it down on record but on stage, they were still unpredictable. Going to ea Mats show you never knew what you were getting. Drunk was a foregone conclusion. What wasn’t known is what they would play. Stories abound about them playing six tunes and walking off the stage. They played a famous set at CBGB’s in New York City where they played covers and didn’t know the words to those songs either. Then again, they could play a set that would blow the doors off the club.

At its most basic, a live ‘Mat’s show was rock and roll at its core. It was loud, emotional, drunken, spiritually freeing and sexually charged. You felt you saw something, even though you may not know what the hell you saw.

The middle period of the ‘Mat’s career was acceptance and admiration. They released two transcendent albums; 1985’s “Tim” and 1987’s “Pleased to Meet Me.”  Both were critical success, commercial success would always be out of reach. The undercurrents of Alternative were just starting to reach an audience and radio stations left of the dial took a flyer on them. They made one appearance on Saturday Night Live and were banned for life straight away.

Their last real album was “Don’t Tell a Soul.” It was the Mats trying like hell to be commercial. They even toured with Tom Petty. As a thank you, Petty appropriated the line “rebel without a clue” from the Mats song, “I’ll Be You” and inserted it onto his hit, “Into the Great Wide Open.” At the end of 1989, the Mats were no closer to fame and success as they were in 1981. Westerberg had had enough as was going to call it quits. He started recording his solo album but it became the final Mats album, even though the “band” only played together on one song.

It’s too late to turn back here we go

After two great opening acts, Chicago’s own Material Issue and roots, rock revivalists NRBQ, the annual Free Fourth of July concert broadcast on radio station WXRT was ready for the grand finale. The final show of the much-vaunted, little-heard indie-darlings, The Replacements started off promising enough, the first song out of the block was the wistful, “I Will Dare.” The song has always been a favorite of mine with the lyric,

“How young are you?

How old am I?

Let’s count the rings around my eyes”

They seemed sharp, well as sharp as The Replacements could be. Tight and sharp were not adjectives used to describe them; drunk and sloppy were much better. Paul Westerberg led what was left of the Replacements though a few songs from the previous two albums.

Song two featured Westerberg saying “Fuck” about six times. If this show had been in 2004 instead of 1991, it would have been pulled off the air due to indecency, so it goes.

To introduce “Merry Go Round,” Westerberg tells the awaiting crowd, “This one’s called “Diane Go Round.” Was it a nod to opening act Material Issue, they had a popular song out called “Diane.” Maybe it was a giant Fuck You! How dare you young upstarts take our place on the power pop mantle?

After the sixth song, “Swinging Party,” Westerberg said, “Thank you very much, Goodnight.” I think he meant it. That was the first moment, that I could tell Westerberg had lost interest. Imagine that – his last show with this band and he was bored not even 1/3 of the way through. The next few songs didn’t so much fade out as they did just stop. Some songs they only played one verse, one chorus and thought, that’s good enough. Some they played with no heart. Instead of playing them for the last time they had the feeling like they were checking off things to do before going on a vacation albeit a permanent vacation.

As an intro to “Someone Take the Wheel,” Westerberg said, “You can see why we’re hanging it up.” Later to be followed by, “Here’s another one you don’t want to hear; frankly neither do I.” Whether Westerberg was getting frustrated at having to play his songs one last time or just annoyed at being outside on Fourth of July in front of 100,000 fans with a lack of intimacy, to quote a song “I Don’t Know.”

The show was half over when “Talent Show” broke off in the middle for a guitar solo of “Send in the Clowns” before being kicked back in by a little Chuck Berry riff. After that, lyrics were forgotten, rhythms were missing and guitar solos were abandoned. It was great. The deconstruction of the Mats and I was there! It was the dismantling of a building piece by piece. All that was left was the implosion.

After the cover of “Hey Good Lookin’” Westerberg announced, “What time are we done? Have we done an hour?” He was watching the clock like the night manager at a CVS.

The last four songs were nothing spectacular. “I’ll Be You” is a rocker but seemed so flat; you almost wanted it to end. The song about starting out in show business, “I Don’t Know” took a strange turn as Westerberg stopped the song, tried to tell a joke and then launched into the normally beautiful “Within Your Reach” Westerberg’s favorite song. Even singing that song, he seemed to be in a hurry to get it over.

Their most “popular” song, “Can’t Hardly Wait” started strong and actually stayed that way. Then came the final song.

A person can work up a mean mean thirst after a hard day of nothin’ much at all

It’s now 20 years on. Rock acts of all genres who vowed to never play together again have since re-united, multiple times, all for the love of filthy lucre. Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth toured together, The Who go on farewell tours every three years. The Eagles charge a mortgage payment to be seen in-person. Even Backstreet’s Back (Alright!) Some groups have gone out with different lead singers and still use the same name; The Cars, The Temptations, The Jam, The Doors, etc, yet one thing is constant – The Mats haven’t gotten back together. To be honest, there hasn’t been much public outcry for it. There is a Facebook page demanding a Mats reunion, it has 1,845 fans. The likely hood of Paul and any incarnation of Replacements playing live again is slim. I have seen him about six times solo. The Mats songs still get the biggest response.

As for Dan and Marla, they have been together ever since that final show. They are happily married, though I wasn’t invited and I should have been the best man, that’s okay, you missed out on a great crock pot.

The Mats ended on that July 4th; Dan and Marla were just beginning.

Best News Ever?

8 May 2011

He is gone, after nearly 10 years, we finally got him. That is the message that President Obama delivered on May 1, 2011 at 11:30 EDT. What a great way to end Yom HaShoah, the day we remember the dead of the Holocaust and May Day, the day we remember when unions were a good thing in this country.

After the president made the announcement people gathered at the White House and the site of the twin towers in NYC and started chanting blindly, in unison, U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! Was it something to be proud of? Were these faux patriots proud that we killed another human being? Granted Osama bin Laden was a mass murder. When John Wayne Gacy was put to death, I don’t remember any one screaming Ill-in-ois! Ill-in-ois!

I give the president credit for not taking his eye of Osama bin Laden, unlike President Bush who after one year didn’t really care anymore about catching the man who orchestrated bring down the World Trade Center towers, flying an airplane into the Pentagon and killing 3,497 people.

Much has been made and will continue to be made on where bin Laden was hiding. The government led as all to believe it was Afghanistan, so much so that we invaded the sovereign nation in order to get him.

Why no one in the Bush administration listen to Christiane Amanpour in 2008? Well, she is a member of the liberal-elite, blame-stream, gotcha media. Fair enough, but what about Janitor from Sacred Heart hospital who said this in 2007

America’s response was strange but that is to be expected. Thanks to Donald Trump and the Tea Baggers, they started to question whether he was really dead or it was a distraction from the Obama birth certificate controversy. Like killing bin Laden would be the distraction to the birth certificate brouhaha. It was so much so simpler in the 1980’s. When Reagan was under fire for Iran-Contra, he would have an illness to distract us, now you have to kill enemy #1 and it’s still not good enough

Another reaction was the social media world going nuts swapping this quote:

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Sounds pretty heady and wise, too bad it is mostly bullshit!  At first it was attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. Later it was attributed to Mark Twain, nice try but no. The italicized part is Dr. King’s quote. The rest has no author. Another quote that went around the social media sites was:

“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I hve read some obituaries with great pleasure.”

 Again attributed to Twain. Well close, it sounds like something that famed attorney

Clarence Darrow said:

“I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.”

Twain gets credit for this bon mot:

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

This shows to go you that you can’t believe everything on the Internet, only believe what you read in Pure Gibberish.

Should we be happy that this truly evil person is dead? Should we celebrate it?

Three of Atlanta’s four most influential Rabbis’ weighed in with Biblical quotes. Rabbis Rachael “Bregs” Bregman and Joshua Heller both used these passages from Proverbs: 1) 11:10, “When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth; and when the wicked perish, there is joy” 2) 24:17 “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thy heart be glad when he stumbleth.” Rabbi Eytan Kenter used this one in his sermon this Shabbat (and yes he did it as a walk and talk), Psalms 104:35 35 “Let sinners cease out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more.”

Darn you Bible, why must you contradict everything!

Kenter’s made me think, which is not my strongest suit. Do we hate the sin and not the sinner? If we wipe out sin then the sinner will have no choice but to repent his actions. In this case, there was no way in hell that Osama bin Laden was going to repent anything, he as joyful in what he did to our country.

I for one am okay in celebrating the sudden and absolute demise of bin Laden. For the most part, I am a non-violent pacifist. Once you transgress the laws of a civil society than those laws no longer apply to you. If you mastermind the mass murder of more than 3500 people under the guise of religion than guess what, you need to go and quickly.

What is next for us? We have been focused on this one guy for nigh on 10 years and now that he is gone what to we do? Great drama needs a great villain. What is Othello without Iago? Wait, too high-brow for my readers, what is 101 Dalmatians without Cruella de Vil? No, too juvenile for my readers, what is McKinley High School without Sue Sylvester?

Who should we focus our massive hatred upon? You can’t just let go of ten years of hatred without replacing it. Perhaps we should direct our hatred at people who deserve it; teachers, union members, public employees, planned parenthood and PBS. You know the people who crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401Ks, took trillions in TARP money, spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico, gave themselves billions in bonuses while paying no taxes.

For now, let’s congratulate our president and military for a job well done. I am sure in the near future we will have another enemy to be scared of. We are a skittish nation and someone will fill the void.

By Raoul Duke Jr.

Last year ended and thanks go to whatever visible or invisible creature you believe in for that. It ended, but not working baseball writers who have to fill out the coveted ballots to anoint those lucky, good or not on juice for the Baseball Hall of Fame. By the loosest possible terms, I am considered a baseball writer. It will take a lot more than drunk and vagrancy charges in Cooperstown, NY to get me kicked out of that group of degenerates. By their low standards, I am an upright citizen. Perhaps that is the only place I am thought of by that term. Most bars in the area have a wanted picture of me (have you noticed how the editor has never posted a picture of me? Think that’s a coincidence? Least nine states and three countries have a bounty on my head. In addition, I took the over of 17 on UGA at the Liberty Bowl. I should keep a low profile should anyone be seeking me.)

Last year, I wrote down Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven on my ballot. The Hawk made it and Blyleven came close, missing by five votes. Five miserable votes! Imagine the year he had trying to hunt down five idiot writers who went against him?

The other also ran last year was Roberto Alomar. I didn’t vote for Robbie due to the spitting incident with umpire John Hirshbeck. That indent cost him first year entry on to Cooperstown and rightly so. I don’t even spit at umpires. I usually throw up at their feet in some bar in Mexico after an all night scouting session with my partner in debauchery Freddy Romeo.

Running down this year’s candidates looks like a list of guys who got picked last in all sports: B.J. Surhoff, Raul Mondesi, Lenny Harris, Bret Boone, Marquis Grissom, Carlos Baerga, Al Leiter. There are a few names that do make you wonder like: Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker,

John Franco, Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago. Last year’s leftovers include: Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, Dave Parker and Dale Murphy. I have left out two names, they will be discussed one all the mescaline hits. Right now, I am not in the proper space to give them their due.

A case can be made for Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzales and Larry Walker. They were dominant players of their time. They all have MVP awards, which always helps. “Bags” and “Juan Gone” hit over 400 HR, while Walker has a career average over .300. The other two were close with .297 and .295 respectively. None of the three has golden numbers: 3000 hits or 500 HR. Combined they have no World Series rings. Walker has seven Gold Gloves, Bagwell one and Gonzales zero.

A new formula, championed by putative rock and roll baseball minister Peter Gammons, has become all the rage – OPS+. It is a saber metric stat used to calculate the sum of a player’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage adjusted for the park and the league in which the player played, but not for fielding their position. The league average is 100 thus any player with a 150 or above is excellent, 125 is very good and below 100 means you play for the Cubs.

Of the newbies, the highest OPS+ belongs to Bagwell with 149. Walker has an OPS+ of 140 and Gonzales 132. The highest OPS + for a modern era player not in the Hall of Fame, who are/were eligible is Dick Allen. He was a great player and an even better reprobate. In other words, my kind of ballplayer.

I did not vote for the three above. Maybe one day they will get enshrinement. Maybe the Veteran’s committee will correct my injustice but they do not belong in on the first ballot.

Next, we come to the ones who missed it last year: Robbie Alomar and Bert Blyleven. I would like to see Alomar wait another year for his transgression but that won’t happen. Both candidates have good enough on-field numbers and something to consider is that they both missed entry by a handful of votes. They will both be elected this year. Bank on it; you hear that Benn, I am putting my money on these two.

The category of last year’s leftovers as mentioned above includes some above average players, some were feared in their day but none of them has stats that pop out to make them Hall of Fame worthy. I was arguing this point on Tino Martinez with an unabashed Yankee lover Brian Lesko. Like all Yankee fans, Lesko has no concept of reality. He thinks Andy Stankiewicz belongs in the Hall just for the fact he put on pinstripes.  He tried to convince me of Martinez’s worth. He has none, sorry Brian.

Sadly, the Baseball Writers of America have missed out on one of the all-time greats. Cubs great Rey Sanchez is NOT even on the ballot even though he is eligible. Rey had a 15-year career, which is a surprise to just about everyone. As a Cub, he hit .262 BA/.304 OBP/.323 SLG, 6 HR, 124 RBI. Not a bad season. Except those are his Cubs career totals. His real value was in the field where his range and glove made him worth keeping on the team. The Rey Era ended in 1997. Of course, Rey will always be remembered for Harry Caray’s call on a routine infield fly, forward clip to 3:41

The elephant on the ballot so to speak is Rafael Palmeiro. The only stat we need to look at is this:

That was March 17, 2005. On July 15th, he became one of only four players in major league history with 3,000 hits and more than 500 home runs. On August 4th, Palmeiro was informed of his positive for steroids. At the time, he claimed he didn’t not know how it got into his system. The former owner of the Texas Rangers, his former team stood behind Palmeiro, Who was that? The same guy who swore Iraq had WMD’s. Jeez, did that buffoon say anything truthful on the way to ruining this once great country?

The only question left to answer about Palmeiro is how low will he go in the voting? Mark McGwire, who last year finally admitted to taking steroids but in the same breath said it didn’t help him in anyway, is sitting at 23.7%.  My guess is that Raffi, an ex-Cub, will fall below the McGwire line, somewhere around 17-19%. He gets the low total due to his hubris.

My ballot once again has two check marks: Alomar and Blyleven. No one else is worthy and no one else will get in this year.

What is there to look forward to? How about 2013 when Barry Bonds, Roger Clements and Sammy Sosa are all eligible. Three of the greatest who ever used the juice in baseball history.

That’s a discussion for another day. The juicers are starting to retire. We have to decide how to handle them. Do they all get in or do none of them get in? Should McGwire be allowed in because he admitted it, while Bonds stays out because he steadfastly denied using anything stronger than linseed oil? Is it a case-by-case situation? Smarter minds than mine will have to answer that question. They pay me to write, not to think. I’ll stick to that thank you very much.

For good or ill, this time of year when we all look back and think – what we could have done differently or better.

“If only I had spent more time watching sports instead of with my family.”

“I should have invested in that that Book of Face thing; I could have been a millionaire by now. Then I really could have watched more sports and dumped the wife and kids for a more pleasing (read: younger) wife.”

Usually, people start making resolutions like:

  • I’m going to quit smoking – As soon as things get less hectic.
  • I’m going to start exercising – Does a walk to the fridge count?
  • I’m going to enjoy life more” – I’m going to buy a boat.
  • I’m going to get out of debt – Hey look a credit card offer with 9.25% APR for the next ten minutes.
  • I’m going to write my great novel – At least I started a blog.

I do not make resolutions. I never keep them and they are too easy to break. Instead, I make goals that I can modify along the way. For example, in 2010, I had a goal of running 750 miles. I only fell about 360 miles short, however, in June I modified it to 360 and guess what? I hit my goal! In fact, I surpassed it by 39 miles. Why did I change it? The weather in Atlanta this year was not conducive for running.  Another goal I had was to do 100 push-ups at one time. I hit that one in early September. I only trained about three weeks for it. I did real ones too!

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Text Messaging and other forms of “social media” we have gotten so much closer yet we are so far away. What happened to us? We used to see each other. We used to talk on the phone. I have about 160 “Facebook Friends” and I have 81 contacts in my email list. Sure, there is some overlap. I wonder how many of these fine individuals I have seen in the past year, or two or three. I have 60 “Facebook Friends” in Atlanta, a dozen of them I have never met. They are friends of friends or radio people I mildly stalk. (Yes you Margot “Smith”.) I have 100 friends who live out of town; I actually do see some of them once a year. Some I have not seen since I graduated high school. (Yes you Patti Baron Simon.)  I have lived in the South for 13+ years and many of my “Facebook Friends” live down here too. At some point, they must come through Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. It is the busiest in the world and every flight in the South stops here it is a law.

As a society, we have lost the personal touch. We do so much on line now that personal communication is gone. We have to get it back. Besides “communicating” we shop, download music, movies and we get our news from the Internet. We use our phones for everything but their intended purpose. My 17-year-old nephew Nathan uses his when his mother grounds him from the computer. He updates Facebook, goes on line to check email, texts his friends and uses it as a clock. His younger brother, Danny, the one who had to have a phone so I bought him one, uses his to collect dust in a dresser somewhere. My adorable, 12-year-old niece Alissa has a phone but never brings it with her. Another niece, Marianne, began begging her mother for a phone when she was eight-years-old. Two and a half later, her mom has showed amazing resolve and not given in, despite constant whining. (As I compose this, my old running buddies from Myrtle Beach, Gordon and Mark Chickering, are planning to come here for the Chick-Fil-A Peach Shake Bowl. They didn’t even call me. I found out on Facebook.)

This year I have one main goal – to get back in touch with you. I mean it. We are going to meet or talk this year, face to face, or at the least, ear to ear. We are going to be social without the social media. If we have never met, send me a message and we will get together. If we haven’t talked in a while, expect a call soon. We have been friends for quite a while yet we do not speak or see each other, that is not a friendship.

Why am I doing this? Do I have a hidden agenda? When we see or talk to each other will I be pitching you on Amway or a time-share in Boca (it has a great view and prime weekends are still available.)? None of the above. I am sick of this non-communicating communication. Posting a picture of your recent trip to Darwin, MN is not the same as hearing or seeing you discuss it. (If you don’t know what is there you had better look it up, there will be a quiz.)

This is not a national movement but it would be cool if it turned out to be.

Thank you for reading my blog this past year. If you enjoyed reading it half as much as I have enjoyed writing it than I have enjoyed it twice as much as you.

“The World’s Largest Ball of Twine” is located in Darwin, MN. I hope you knew that.

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