Thursday, July 28, 2005

Spare Parts

Did you ever feel like your life was just one big mess, that no matter what you did or how hard you tried, that everything would still end up turning out wrong? That some people were just blessed with good fortune, and that you were not destined to be one of those people?

Life deals different decks of cards to different people. You try and get philosophical about it, tell yourself you don‘t get what you can’t handle, you learn from your mistakes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But why is it that for some, things just seem to fall their way—the perfect boyfriend (girlfriend), job, home. Perfect kids—a boy and a girl (of course) with perfect straight teeth (well maybe one front tooth missing for the cuteness factor) who do perfect things, and the grandparents just love everything they do and all is rosy in this perfect world that stays free from error and sin and darkness and harm.

For some people there is nothing but struggle and heartache and misfortune and self-doubt and fear and anger and contempt and disgust and worst of all, that absolute terror that nothing that you do, nothing that you have ever done or will ever do, will be of any great consequence. You are sad and shapeless and insignificant, and when you go there will be nothing left behind you, not a trace of who you were or what you did except those mistakes, left behind for the whole world to see as monuments to your misfortune.

"She sighed Ma sometimes my whole life feels like one big mistake..."
from "Spare Parts," Copyright © Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Things I Like Vol. 27

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World

1) The Saint, Asbury Park NJ - it's all in the family
2) "Black-Haired Girl" - Jesse Malin (brand new 'n' unreleased)
3) "Beautiful Day" - ditto
4) Maybe Pete - New Jersey's best unsigned band
5) Team America, dir. by Trey Parker - the best laugh I've had in ages
6) Chat and Nibble Restaurant, Asbury Park NJ
7) "Ball of Confusion" - The Temptations
8) Major League Soccer - bringing the beautiful game to the US
9) IOTA Cafe, Arlington VA - come for the food, stay for the music
10) United For Peace & Justice - see you in September

Hero of the Week: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), for finally introducing the long-awaited Resolution of Inquiry with respect to the Downing Street Memos

Villain of the Week: Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)--this nut job wants to send the US back to the 18th century (apparently the 19th wasn't good enough)!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

He's Just a Man

When did it become not about the music but about the star power? Why, when you have the honor and the privilege of witnessing performances that often border on genius, when you are given the chance to truly connect with one of the most warm, generous, human artists of this or any other era—why is it more important to simply bask in his presence, to be physically close to him, to maul each other like a pack of starving wolves for a look, a glance, a touch?

I saw and heard a particularly solid and moving performance by Bruce Springsteen on Saturday night, the kind that you never want to end, never want the spell to be broken. It used to be that it all continued after the show was over, that even when the lights did come back up, there was a high, a magic that continued for hours afterward. A warm glow almost like a drug–you wanted to relive each moment with those who had witnessed it with you, to go over each detail, each nuance. It was a special bond that existed in few fan communities. We all felt a part of something special, something we didn’t have to defend or explain; it was just understood.

But something’s changed. When the lights come up now, you just want to run before the inevitable behavior continues. You can ignore it when the show is in progress, but when the lights come on, you have to look into their eyes and see the madness, the greed, the jealousy and selfishness that have infected these seemingly intelligent, sensitive people. They are sad and they are desperate. The music isn’t enough—the need to be close to The Man, the Jesus figure that they think will change their lives overwhelms them. One look from him, one touch will not suffice. They measure and compare how close they were to him, count how many times they made eye contact, whether or not he reached out and touched them. And they compete against each other, it’s some mad game out of a movie, this obsession not with a person but with a persona. If they could only embrace this presence somehow, this contact would give their shallow, empty lives meaning.

It must be so startling, so disconcerting, so depressing, to look down from that stage and want to really reach people, to really connect, and instead to see the same manic faces desperately clawing to get closer, knowing that you can’t give them what it is they want, no one can, it must come from inside themselves. He knows this, knows it better than anyone, for it used to be that, like them, he needed these performances to remain sane because he had nothing else. Those four-hour shows of yore were literally his means of survival. Happily, he finally allowed himself to see that the emptiness inside him wasn’t right, that things were out of balance, that there was more to him, more to life. That he was worth something without a guitar in his hand. It took years of hard work, and it is clearly still an ongoing process. But he saw it, continues to see it, and is at last, a whole person.

Paradoxically, though, as he has found and embraced his true self, he increasingly seems to draw empty, sad people who come to him for precisely the reasons he used to come to them—sustenance and meaning and self-worth. And he can’t give that to them—never could—he can only give them grace and power and uplift, give them the knowledge that they are and always have been worthwhile, that the respect and dignity that they crave like a drug must come from within. And they would know this, if only they would listen, really listen, to the music. But they can’t, or they won’t, and so they continue to demand from him what he can’t give, what they can only get from themselves. It is a desperate, unfulfilled yearning that will never be satisfied, and it is a terrifying, depressing thing to watch.

Part of being a performer is a basic human need, a craving to connect, to communicate because you can’t do it any other way. What must it be like to realize that with your core audience, there is no true connection, only sycophancy and desperation and need that sucks you dry? How must it feel night after night to be the trained monkey onstage evoking these same predictable emotions from these same sad people no matter what you do, how great or terrible your performance was? Do they even listen to the songs, do they even understand what it is you’re trying to do? They say they love you, but really, do they even know you?

When that realization finally hits you, it hits hard, and you had better be ready, better be strong, better know who you are and what you’re about and have that strong foundation of self-awareness and self-love, because if you don’t, you are lost. And even if you do, sometimes it’s still too much to ask of a person. After all, the only person in this world that you are responsible for—the only one you can ever really save—is yourself. You are not responsible for the happiness of others.

No wonder John Lennon retreated, resigned, hid. Who wants to be Jesus when all you really are is a man?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Rove Must Go

Sick of the lies and sleaze? Send the "Turd Blossom" his walking papers. There, now, doesn't Karl look pretty in pink?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Rove Declassified?

July 13, 2005

Congressman Tierney Calls For Suspension of Rove’s Security Clearance and Access to Classified Information

Washington, DC - All Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) today joined Congressman John F. Tierney (D-MA), the only New England Member of HPSCI, to call on President George Bush to revoke White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove’s security clearances and access to classified information. In a letter to the President, all nine Democrats on the Committee urged him to take immediate action.

Somebody pinch me please. Can it be that the Democrats on Capitol Hill (aside from the Conyers posse and a few other select individuals) are finally doing their jobs? Geez, next thing you know they'll be, like, filibustering a Supreme Court nominee or somethin'...

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Up the Establishment

Why do we work so hard?

It can all be taken away. So don't think about who might laugh at you, or tell you you can't, or you shouldn't, or it costs too much or is too risky or you must behave responsibly because you never know what might happen.

That's true, you never do know what might happen, it can all be gone tomorrow. No one ever lay on a deathbead agonizing about whether or not more time should have been spent working. So play. Take that risk.

And when that person looks at you, looks through you, when you have made that connection and it is deep and it shakes you to the core, scares you so you want to run--don't. Because although it is terrifying to open oneself up, it is infinitely more terrifying to not know what might have been.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Baseball (in DC) is Life

Almost forgotten amongst all the furor about the attacks in London today, they played baseball in the Nation's Capital this afternoon. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, we haven't had baseball here in 33 years, and the love affair with our brand new team is on.

The Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos) weren't given any chance of doing anything this year, and yet, at the All-Star Break, my hometown team has the second best record in baseball. That's right, the team everyone laughed at, the team with one of the smallest payrolls in the major leagues, the team that has sent player after player to the disabled list, continues to find ways to win. For once, the nice guys are finishing first.

And the city of Washington, the butt of so many jokes, the city that everyone says is bland and boring, lacking in culture and fashion and fun--the city that is divided by so many things--is being brought together by this improbable bunch of misfits and rejects, and we are having the last laugh. Attendance has far exceeded expectations and shows no signs of slowing down (today's game was yet another sellout). And the team is responding in kind, refusing to give up, pulling out game after game in all sorts of gutsy ways.

Today, having just sent yet another one of their best hitters to the DL, the Nats gave it their best shot (as always), and held their own into extra innings before being bested by (in this homestand anyway) a superior bullpen. And in the end, it didn't really matter, because we were all there together-kids seeing their first big league game, fathers and sons, moms and daughters, businessmen (and lobbyists) playing hookey, African-American, Latino, Asian, white, urban, suburban, young, old--we were all there together, and everyone was having a great time.

It is still unbelievable to me that after so many years of waiting, hoping, praying, of having hopes crushed again and again, that on a humid July afternoon, I could get on the subway, ride a half hour down to funky old RFK stadium (where I have seen so many amazing times), and buy a $15 seat behind home plate to watch baseball. How long we have waited here in Washington, and how disheartening the wait has been! And yet, here we are, in 2005, watching America's Pastime in the Nation's Capital.

I have been to several games since opening day, and still I pinch myself each time I walk down the long approach to that venerable old sports facility on East Capitol Street. And today, on a day when I really needed to get away, to escape from the latest horror stories abroad and here at home in Washington, to forget about the personal baggage that often seems more than I can bear, baseball saved me.

The Nats' improbable luck may continue, and then again, it may not. After all, that's baseball, and indeed, that's life. But in the end, that's not what's important. In the end, baseball is back in Washington to stay, and that is all that matters.

And the Beat Goes On

In Iraq, they call events like this "Tuesday."
---William Rivers Pitt, Truthout editorial

Is anybody really surprised that today's bombings in London took place? Given the horrendous mismanagement of our foreign affairs since 9/11 and the shoddy state of security here in the US, the only real surprise is that the attacks didn't take place here, and that they didn't happen sooner.

We failed to go after Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and they have now set up training grounds in Iraq, where there were none before. (Bin Laden is still at large, and no doubt enjoying every minute of this latest chaos.) And let's not even talk about the complete lack of any kind of security at most of our rail stations, ports, and most terrifying of all, nuclear power plants. I ask you, is that bomb sniffing dog I saw today as I entered the subway here in DC really going to save me? (Actually, here in the Nation's Capital, the real terror is the drug and gun culture fostered by urban neglect. But I digress...)

The reality is that funding for emergency services has been cut--that's right, cut--in almost every major city including Washington and New York. (And right here in DC, there is laughably little coordination between our local government and the feds, as evidenced by the recent incident with the passenger plane invading our airspace. Doesn't bode well, does it?) So let's not kid ourselves that we're safe, and let's not make this a partisan issue--let's deal with the problem like adults before something happens again. Now that would be a surprise.


Further reading: Check out this great piece on Americablog.

And this from the Center for American Progress.

Scary stuff.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Things I Like Vol. 26

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World

1) Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
2) Fins Tropicali Grill, Bradley Beach NJ
3) Cherry-flavored Slurpees
4) The Windmill, Ocean Grove NJ-best burgers on the Jersey Shore and a really cool mural
5) Ice cold margaritas with salt
6) Chilled Corona and lime
7) 4th of July, Asbury Park-A History of the Promised Land - Daniel Wolff
8) "Holidays in the Sun" - Sex Pistols
9) - the truth will out
10) Howard Dean-DNC Chair and fly in the ointment

Hero of the Week: John Conyers (who else?), Drum Major for Justice

Villain of the Week: Karl Rove (ditto). How does he sleep at night?

Deep Breath, Count to Ten

"American politics has become a game with no rules and no referee. Play by the old rules--fairness, honesty, good faith--and face political extinction."
---Eric Alterman in The Nation

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) ought to get a medal. Only in this administration, one receives such things for gross incompetence, (L. Paul Bremer III), more gross incompetence (Tommy R. Franks), and still more gross incompetence (George J. Tenet). Tomorrow, the gentleman from Michigan and his brethren will send yet another letter to the White House, this time demanding that Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove explain his central role in the Plame affair, a circumstance that is now officially documented. But alas, this White House doesn't have any honor, and it sure doesn't play by the rules. Good luck getting Mr. Rove to admit to much of anything except being a "patriot."

Oh, and expansion is underway at Arlington National Cemetery. Could this have anything to do with the above referenced incompetence? Just asking.

Go Nats

Any questions?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Ain't That America

I didn't watch the fireworks yesterday. And this is not because there were none to be had, or that viewing them would be difficult. Though (with any luck) I will soon be a permanent resident of Gotham City, I am still a Washington DC homie, and could have watched the fireworks on the National Mall from my bedroom window if I had wanted to. But I didn't.

For the last year or two--hell, since the inception of this "war" we are currently engaged in--I have not felt particularly patriotic, at least in the "rah rah wave the flag sing 'God Bless America'" sort of way. It's a little hard for me to wear the red, white and blue given the values which my beloved country is currently espousing and for which countless young Americans and Iraqis are being maimed and killed.

The America Dr. King believed in--the country I (still) believe in--stands for something different than torture and lawlessness and greed and arrogance, for lying and cheating and subterfuge. It stands for Equal Justice Under Law, for government of the People by the People for the People; for accountability, transparency and fairness.

It is extremely difficult to maintain one's belief in "the system" when it seems corrupted beyond repair; when no one seems to care, when we all seem to be looking after only ourselves. However, it is in circumstances like these, when things are at their most dire, that we need to dig deeper and keep fighting every day for the America that was promised to us, the America (as Mr. Springsteen so eloquently put it) we carry in our hearts. So because I believe in these things, I will not give up.

There will come a day when this country will be forced to awaken from its greedy, solipsistic slumber (and I fear that it will be a rude awakening). But until then, I will not watch the fireworks, I will not wear red, white and blue, I will not sing "God Bless America," I will not wave the flag. Because though I still love my country (despite all its flaws), to do these things would be a betrayal of everything in which I believe. Because I just don't feel it. And because you just don't lie about patriotism.

Monday, July 04, 2005

4th of July, DC

So here I am back in the Nation's Capital after a stellar weekend of music in the Garden State. Stellar, that is, except for the attendance, which was nonexistent. Where was everyone? Home watching Live 8 on MTV? Good God, I hope not, for your sakes.

'Cause you missed the following:

--Author Daniel Wolff signing copies of his amazing new book, 4th of July, Asbury Park at Antic Hay books in AP. Great guy, fascinating and well-researched book, not just about Springsteen's adopted hometown, but about America. Not to be missed.

--John Eddie cranking out an amazing version of "Dead Flowers" after a ridiculously sloppy show before a bunch of drunken hooligans on the South Jersey shore...

--Soozie Tyrell's transcendent smile. Not the best set I've ever seen by her, but she always looks like she's having fun, and isn't that what it's all about?

--Southside Johnny at the Stone Pony. His element. Everything the Jersey Shore music scene is supposed to be about: soul and community...and the music. Not who has the best tan, coolest iPod selection or best Bruce tickets...but the goddamn music. Southside doesn't care who you are or where you come from or what you look like or how you are dressed or where you live or how much money you have or how cool you think you are. The only thing he cares about--has ever cared about--is whether or not you have SOUL. He plays the music of the downtrodden, the unhip, the forgotten, the lonely...and makes it fun and real and inspirational every single night.

So you can take all your "patriotism" and your yellow ribbon magnets on your SUVs and your red white and blue flag t-shirts from Old Navy and stick 'em...'cause if you don't love Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Stone Pony on the Fourth of July Weekend., just ain't American...

Friday, July 01, 2005

Conyers Rules

My hero Rep. Conyers is at it again. Perhaps in honor of the Independence Day holiday, the relentless representative from Michigan has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Department of State for materials relating to the Downing Street Minutes and the lead up to the Iraq war. With 52 percent of the American public now saying they believe that the president misled us about Iraq and a resounding 42 percent saying they would support impeachment proceedings if this is found to be true (this is without most of them even being aware of the Downing Street Memos' existence), this is just another sign that the tide has turned.

As we move into the holiday weekend--and the 142nd anniversary another of this nation's turning points--let us remember what this country really stands for, and demand that our government, the institution that works for us, uphold the standards laid out in its Constitution. It is our country, and we should expect nothing less.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863