Roar, Damnit, Roar!

If the American people could truly, and rationally, understand the depth of depravity and corruption at the heart of our political and economic system nowadays…what would we do?

Because it’s much worse than many of us even want to believe, and it’s at every level of our government and business world. Government is not the only problem, because as the financial crisis of 2008 proved, even our corporate elite are grifters and film-flam artists out to fleece us of whatever wealth we have. But they got government, totally in their pocket, to bail them out of their abject failure (the chief economic advisors/cabinet members for Bush AND Obama were once CEOs of Goldman Sachs!) We, the people, are not so lucky when the banks foreclose our houses or our bosses hand us pink slips. We’re on our own even though we pay more in taxes as a percentage of our wealth than the wealthiest do, especially wealthy corporations.

Today’s social climate is a tough place for political commentary, if only for all the nasty fighting it induces with people of differing ideological views. Each side wants to place blame on the other; no one likes to be wrong, so discussion reaches a shouting impasse as one or the other side refuses to view the facts, but instead wallows in emotional attachment to beliefs long ago proven wrong, or bad. People can barely discuss the weather without some sort of ideological screaming match.

I say, our national motto is E Pluribus Unum, Latin for From Many, One. So, in reality, we’re all to blame in many ways.

We can either be the sheep or the lion in today’s corrupt, anti-democratic, abject failure of a culture that is the United States of America. Sadly, far too many of us can barely speak to each other, blinded by our bad ideological, religious, and philosophical beliefs. Only one thing should bind us together, and it’s not religion, ideology or even philosophy; it’s our Constitution and what this brilliant social contract requires of us, the citizenry. In that we are all failing to some degree, if I may be honest.

Roar, you lions. Roar.

The Smiths: The Band That Changed Everything


I was a little late catching on to The Smiths. They broke out like a wildfire in Britain in 1983, ruling the UK charts (and emotions of the kingdom’s youthful denizens) as the new lords of pop music. They were huge in the UK for the next two years before they found their way to me, a 22-year-old Army medic stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, which was a world as far away from Steven Morrissey’s Manchester as could be found. You had to be a serious music seeker to discover the Smiths in America in 1985; they didn’t make videos for MTV and they got no airplay on American radio. Therefore, in America they didn’t exist.

My introduction to The Smiths came in late 1985 via a young nerdy kid who worked at record shop in Athens, Georgia. If the actor Andy Dick could mate with Michael Stipe of R.E.M., their love child would look like this kid. He was allergic to every element on the Periodic Chart, which caused him to spend his entire life immersed in a tepid pool of snot and slime and soggy, used kleenex. When many people talk, they often include a few “umms” every now and then to help collect thoughts before saying the next thing. With this kid after every three words he either sniffled or sneezed, and the timbre of his voice was always muffled by his snot-filled airways and nasal cavities. His breath was as foul as the air inside an old outhouse in summertime.

However, this kid, this Boris Snotbreath, as I called him, was cool. The coolest. Beyond cool; he was the cool avatar. This cool kid introduced me to The Smiths. They have been my favorite band since that day and have remained in the top spot twenty years later. They were the band that changed everything. So obviously Boris Snotbreath had to be the coolest human ever.

Snotbreath’s first rule to me: the first America-released record by The Smiths was crap. Total crap. Well, not total crap, but certainly they could do better. Instead, he said, if you want to know The Smiths, first listen to Hatful of Hollow, which contained alternate—better—versions of songs on their first record, plus it contained a few new singles they released after the record the Smiths came out in 1984.

Hatful of Hollow is a masterpiece. The Smiths sounded best playing live in a studio, with no overdubs or multi-tacking, just the lads kicking ass in unison, in one take, as if playing at their favorite gig on a Saturday night. Their tracks for John Peel’s BBC show, recorded live in the studio, are simple, direct, tense, and brilliantly vibrant, and were so refreshing in 1985 that I felt honored to have found them. This, I knew immediately, was going to be my favorite band.

The opening tracks, “William, It Was Really Nothing,” “What Difference Does It Make,” “Handsome Devil,” “This Charming Man,” and “These Things Take Time,” display The Smiths at their snotty best, so utterly brilliant, clever, and cocky, simply knowing they are the Next Big Thing; you feel their magnificence and forget every band or song you ever heard previously. On future records they would sound brilliant in many different ways, but they never got better or worse than those first blasts from Hatful of Hollow.

The Smiths, you see, were always great and were never—not once—bad on any record (Boris was wrong: their first record was brilliant; Hatful was simply better). They started out as the best band of their generation and they never retreated from that lofty post until they broke up in 1987. Every record was a masterpiece. Every single they released was as vital as the previous or next one. And when they broke up, they did so while Strangeways, Here We Come topped the charts in Europe and was fairly popular—reaching 55 on Billboard’s album charts—in America; not bad for a British band with little MTV exposure or radio airplay outside of college towns.

The Smiths weren’t Punks or Mod-Revivalists or New Romantics or some other Punk/New Wave hybrid; they were just an English rock band in the tradition of the Beatles and Stones and Who. They were not part of any silly movement or ephemeral style. In America they’d get tossed into the “alternative” bins at record stores, but they were not an alternative rock band.

These four lads from Manchester were something new and something necessary, the next logical step in the evolution of pop and rock. Forget the silly hairdos and slick New Wave fashion of their peers in the UK; that was thrown out the window after the opening bars of “Hand in Glove.” Forget the phony folk heroism of U2 or Springsteen or Mellencamp; Morrissey killed all that feel-good Live Aid idealism with his first ironic ditty sung into a microphone while backed by Johnny Marr’s masterful guitar licks; Morrissey knew rock stars were not saints or saviors; they were just rock singers—pop stars—which was all they needed to be; they were the Lord Byrons and Oscar Wildes in tight trousers—they were not Joan of Arc or Jesus Christ. Forget the macho posturing and campy glam of Metal; Morrissey may have been gay (not that we fans gave a fuck), but he made Metal stars look like the silly, narcissistic fags that they were. Forget videos too; the Smiths never really embraced that medium, yet became the first band in the MTV era to sell records in America despite not getting airplay on MTV.

The Smiths were the band that changed everything.

Not only were the Smiths the most brilliant and original band to enter the scene in years, they refused to play the rock star game and triumphed magnificently despite this. They didn’t cuddle up to the BBC, MTV or the rock press. They didn’t just replace New Wave—they assassinated it with glee and began something newer and better, more honest and cool, and certainly more human. They rocked. They rolled. They made you laugh. They made you dance. They matured and yet never lost their DIY spirit. They were as much Elvis as they were The Who, Small Faces, Ziggy Stardust, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, and Joy Division. They were what the Jam should have been—as popular in America as they were in the UK. Morrissey and Marr were the 80’s John and Paul, Mick and Keith, Bowie and Ronson, Tyler and Perry, Eno and Ferry, Mick and Joe; without the one you cannot have the other; a creative symbiosis that generates greatness.

After The Smiths, fans would demand integrity, honesty, and sincerity—and not phony rock god posing or outlandish fashion statements—from their favorite rock bands. Rock stars didn’t need to be sex gods wearing codpieces who swaggered on stage in ugly spandex trousers and poofie hairdos like burlesque queens. Maybe rock music wasn’t just about sex, drugs, glamour, and partying. Maybe it didn’t need to be about hero worship. Maybe image wasn’t everything. Maybe the music should matter the most, not the stars or their stupid fucking style or image. Once the Smiths debunked the rock star myth, every cool band that followed could be themselves and not have to worry about their hairstyle, clothes, or public image. No more silly costumes or gimmicks were needed. Just play music, be cool, and be yourself. When you think of the Pixies, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Blur, Radiohead, Oasis, Coldplay, or Interpol, you probably know their music much better than their faces.

The Smiths were—are—my favorite band. By 1986 the world was divided into those who got the Smiths and those who didn’t. If you liked Bon Jovi, Metallica, Whitesnake, Ratt, Poison, Motley Crue, or Guns n Roses, you were not a Smiths fan, nor were you welcome in our world with your girlie hair, spandex, sock-stuffed undies, and god-awful “Metal” ballads. If you went to a show and let out a rebel whoop every time the lead singer shouted, “Let’s Party, Cleveland/Milwaukee/Skokie/Denver/Indianapolis!” then you were not a Smiths fan. If you cried while listening to an Ozzy-Lita Ford duet or at the end of Top Gun, you were definitely not a Smiths fan. If you didn’t read books you weren’t a Smiths fan. If you had a mullet you weren’t a Smiths fan. If you thought Ronald Reagan was a great President or Maggie Thatcher was a great Prime Minister you were not a Smiths fan. If you thought Kenny G was a jazz artist you were not a Smiths fan. If you did the “Electric Slide” you were not a Smiths fan. If you referred to women as “pussy” you were not a Smiths fan.

All the seminal 80’s bands like the Jam, Hüsker Dü, R.E.M., Undertones, XTC, Violent Femmes, The Church, Replacements, Pixies, and Sonic Youth, but first and foremost by The Smiths, who were clearly the best band of that era, head and shoulders above their peers; anyhow, what these great bands had was intelligence and passion, and they loved rock and roll as much as any long-haired stadium rocker; they just loved it differently. And so did we.

When The Smiths broke up in 1987 I was already starting to get bored with them, so it was a perfect time to part ways. I was sad, of course, but not as devastated or angry as when The Clash split. For the next 18 years I would store Smiths records away for years and then for no real reason pull them out, and for the next few years they were back in favor. And then it was back to the closet for another few years. It’s gone in cycles like that since the breakup, but my love for their music has never waned. They will always be my favorite band.

Camouflaged Militia Heroes of America (NOT!)

These days you see more non-military, redneck American men sporting camouflage clothes than 50 divisions of Airborne soldiers. Moreover, the “free” militia movement, where tubby, never-served-in-the-military morons dress up like real soldiers and run around the woods playing Army, has grown the last few years since the American people twice elected Barack Obama, which to the lumpen redneck masses is a sign of impending doom for our republic, and hence they feel the need to stock up on military-grade rifles and camouflaged military gear. The fancy themselves “protectors” of the Constitution and citizenry. They are neither.

I know America is a free country, and our citizens are free to make jackasses out of themselves however they see fit, but I am also free to sneer at these fat fucks playing soldier. However, they are not soldiers, and they are not protecting a goddamn thing in this country except their goofy, neurotic, narcissistic need to live out their fantasy life. Running around the woods in camouflaged military gear, toting military-grade assault rifles, and even joining these so-called “citizen militias” does not make one a soldier.

Soldiers swear oaths to protect the Constitution, abide by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and obey the orders of commissioned officers appointed by the government. They are part of a chain of command that begins with our freely-elected President and moves down the line of officers and NCOs who are all professional soldiers with years of training and experience. They enforce policy, right or wrong, that is guided by our democratic principles and the Constitutional authority of the chain of command.

A bunch of redneck yahoos armed to the hilt and dressed like soldiers do not abide by any code of honor or duty that even begins to resemble real military service. They’re more a danger to the citizenry than protectors of it. They’re an armed mob. They are undemocratic and governed by nothing but their ignorant whims and narrow-minded political and ideological views.

And here’s my pantheon of camo fatty heroes. I don’t know these stupid fuckers from Adam, but I found all these photos on the Internet, so while they exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms, I am exercising my First Amendment right to mock the living fuck out of them, fling shit at them, and call them all kinds of mean names.

I served seven years in the real Army, swore to protect these Constitutional rights as the basis of my service, so I am gladly repaying my own service by exercising my free speech here. I welcome every one of the douchebags I mock here to challenge me on this. I don’t fear a mob of armed, pot-bellied assholes parading around as phony soldiers any more than I fear children playing Army in the woods with toy weapons. Barack Obama has been legitimately elected and he’s not the anti-christ or Hitler-Stalin fascist-commie he’s been portrayed by the drooling right-wing extremists and Tea Party morons. To take up arms against the legitimate government, freely elected by the people, is fucking treason. To call for overthrowing our government without using Constitutional means is sedition.

All you fat asshole militia dudes are, to me—a Veteran US Army soldier and true patriot—a bunch of treasonous pigs. I shit on you all, no matter how honorable you think your cause(s). You dishonor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who swore that real oath of service and served with honor and duty to the people of this country. You crap on our Constitution and democratic principles. You’re really a bunch of childish morons.

So here’s my extended middle-finger salute to you, oh great camo fatty militia heroes. May you all trip on your AR-15 rifles and blow off what tiny testicles you possess.


Camo Fatty 1Here we have General “Black Jack” Buttcrack off to battle in the Walmart Cheetos aisle. No telling what kind of armed resistance he might face in his quest for cheap processed carbohydrates and soft drinks laden with high fructose corn syrup, just what this tub of lard needs to ingest.









Camo Fatty 2Here’s Colonel Blubberus T. Chubbins of the 101st Squirrel Rangers awaiting deployment to the front lines to do battle with the evil doers at Burger King. Squirrel Rangers lead the way! (Apparently with their man boobs.)









Camo Fatty 3Where would America be without these corpulent militiamen protecting us from…well, we’re not sure of that yet, but look at this fine, fat he-man, Major Hugie Fattums, from the 101st Squirrel Rangers, armed and ready to save America from the heathen fascist invaders from…British Columbia?





Camo JackassIn the great upcoming battle to save Wisconsin from Arab terrorists, zombies, and Obama supporters, valiant and brave militiamen like Captain Doofie Goofus, whose military expertise comes from watching Platoon and Rambo III 10,000 times, smartly briefs his soldiers on brilliant military tactics like how to find usable porta-potties during the zombie apocalypse.








Camo Fatty 5And don’t ya’ll go thinking our untrained heroes in camo ain’t ready for a winter campaign against the rampaging zombie hordes. Check out Master Sergeant Bluto Bitchtitts from the 503rd Chairborne Fatty Regiment of the 101st Squirrel Rangers on the left, sporting the 5XXXX “Huge-n-Fat” winter gear, which even sports secret pockets to hold his extensive Twinkie supply. A hero needs to eat! Best of all, it snugly accommodates his adult diaper and the copious pantload already contained within.



Fatty FatsNext time you hear the song “Battle Hymn Republic” I want you to picture this great hero, Corporal Biggie Jiggles (who graciously takes time off from his job at Taco Bell to participate) of the Muscatine Militia, a subordinate unit of the Plus-Sized Patriots, where physical fitness is eschewed in favor of gorging on Moon Pies dipped in Wendy’s Frostys, or “A-Rats” as the big boys like to call them, and “double time” means another heaping helping of Aunt Shirley’s awesome Mac-n-Cheez casserole.







Camo Fatty 7Ah, America, breathe in the awesome free air protected by such brave patriots as this hero, Petty Officer Earl “Double-Chin” Waddlefat of the McHale’s Navy Seals, a highly “ooo-rah!” waterborne militia that hones its skills in the back yard wading pool of its brave leader, Commander Bert “Fartles” McHale, who once served in the real Navy briefly but washed out of boot camp for drowning in the shower. These fierce frogmen can only hope the socialist hippie Obama-loving hordes start treading on the freedoms of real Americans like this manly warrior. Take away Earl’s guns? Motherf***** you might as well try to take away his Cheetos!




Fatty FusileersHere we have 3rd Squad, 4th Platoon, Whale Company of the Fifth Fatassed Fusileers, a truly amazing regiment of brave free militiamen seeking to protect America from all those marauding masses of dirty, filthy, Jesus-hating, global-warming-believing, arugula-eating, Obamacare-loving, commie socialist gun-taking gay abortionist fascists taking over America. Look at these fine warrior specimens! Don’t let the potbellies and skid-marked underwear fool you, my fellow Americans—these are crack, disciplined troops.





Fatty HeroesFinally, let us bask in the bright light emitted by these manly warriors of the Hazard County Special Ranger Squad, led by the rotund but fierce Captain “Chubby” Chuckie Rumpwhistle, who never served in the real military but once worked as a security guard at Costco. He’s surrounded by his loyal minions, who dutifully observe as he demonstrates how to operate his granddad’s old squirrel rifle. Rest easy, Kentucky, you’re well protected by this Band of Brothers.


Music Memory Lane: The Only Record That Mattered

 The Clash – London Calling (1979)

When I was a freshman in college there was a music war between the rock traditionalists who clung to The Rolling Stones, Hendrix, Who, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Ozzy, el al., opposed by the modernists who championed Punk and New Wave bands like Talking Heads, Dead Kennedys, Ramones, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, and this band, The Clash, labeled by its most passionate fans as “The Only Band That Matters.” I loved “Classic Rock” but this new music out of New York City, London, and Manchester won me over by the sheer excellence and excitement of the music; it was my generation finding a voice and sound to call its own, and here it was in all its glory on London Calling, the greatest Punk/Post-Punk/New Wave record by the best band.

I realized something in early 1982 as I absorbed the ethos inspiring this new, radical, cool music: It was time to move on from the music and ideas from the 60s and 70s. It was time to change. It was time to grow. It changed my life in how I viewed everything, not just music, but also politics, society, culture, and my role in the greater world. Mainly it forced me to look at myself and change who I was—indeed, inspired by this new music and new ideas, I looked within myself to find what I could change, and change I did in radicals ways that I’d been previously frightened to even consider.

In 1981-82 I felt trapped in a life I felt I was living for others; I was a fat, miserable, decadent, substance-abusing mope wandering around without feeling or purpose. I felt myself wasting away in college, bored and throughly uninterested in the path it was taking me. One morning I woke up and decided to take control of my life, change myself, even reinvent who I was to the very core of my being. And I did–I dropped out of college, joined the Army, and got as far away from my previously miserable life as I possibly could. It was my act of rebellion on the one hand and a cleansing of all my previous sins on the other, a chance to reinvent myself as the person I wanted to be, not who I was.

London Calling is now, oddly enough, played on Classic Rock radio, and of course it’s classic Rock & Roll as much as The Who or Stones or Zeppelin or Rush. But in the early 80s it was a revolution of sound, style, and attitude, a new generation taking the music of Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Stones, Beatles, Who, Zeppelin, Bowie, etc. and taking it elsewhere, to different, newer directions. The Clash played a diverse melange of styles on this record, from Ska and Reggae to Punk and traditional English Rock, and even a little Blues and Country, all filtered through Joe Strummer’s unique voice and vision. It wasn’t Punk any more in the way Tommy wasn’t a Mod record by The Who. It was just Rock & Roll. GREAT Rock & Roll. It was rebellious. Cool. Intelligent. And of course it kicked butt. It was the defining work of my generation.

Music Memory Lane: The Revolution Has an Anthem!

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax (1984)

Happy 30th to one of the most ridiculously over-hyped and yet still totally awesome dance tracks of all time. Frankie said RELAX and we did!

As a straight man who has always sided with, and fought for, the rights of all my dear LGBT friends worldwide, there was no better expression of pure, unashamed, unbridled, joyful gayness than what these maniacally naughty queens from Liverpool put down on this track. The revolution was well served with this legendary anthem and declaration of sexual free will.

And the fight is not over! 19 states down with 31 remaining! Frankie says gay marriage is a Constitutional right!

Music Memory Lane: Rallying at Chip’s the Summer of 1978

 AC/DC – TNT (1976)

The summer of 1978 between 9th grade and our sophomore year of high school, my little clique—Chip Johnston, Doug Russell, Chip’s girlfriend Robin Overhoff, Doug’s girlfriend Robin Dalzell, and whatever other assorted fools, party fiends, and hangers-on we collected along the way—would rally at Chip’s house at 3 pm every day, as his parents worked second shift at CBS records, giving us free reign of Chip’s house, his step-dad Jim Keefer’s awesome stereo system and fantastic weed stash from which we pinched “juuust a taste” every day, and of course Chip’s Mom, Betty, always stocked the fridge knowing her sweet baby boy and his gang needed sustenance! We’d crank on the black lights and lava lamps, blast music so loud we’d be deaf by the end of the night, and flop around Chip’s house like idiots dancing to Boston, Ted Nugent, Rush, AC/DC, Earth, Wind & Fire, Aerosmith, Sly and the Family Stone, Zeppelin, Kiss and so much more.

Chip’s old man had every great record ever made that he bought super cheap from all the great employee sales at CBS, so we hardly ever wasted our own money on music or weed that summer; Jim was cool in that he knew we were pilfering his stash, but we never abused his benevolence, so he’d just snarl at us to make Betty happy, but you could see him wink as he snarled. Jim was in a biker gang but was a cool, kind man who’d served in the Korean War. I guess he figured it was better Chip kept his wild ways at home than on the streets. Like I said, it was the 1970s—the rules were ambiguous at best.

Perhaps, in hindsight some 36 years later, it’s a horrifying thought remembering the unbridled licentious lifestyle we original latchkey kids lived back in the late 70s, but we all turned out fine, thank you very much. Well, maybe it took me a while to reach that point…whatever. And maybe it aged my poor Mom. Be we have all those super cool memories from that crazy summer.

Music Memory Lane: Tanya and the Summer of ’87

Just Around the Corner – Cock Robin (1987)

Melancholy and heartbreak are made beautiful in this classic by Cock Robin, an American band who took this to the top of the charts in Europe the summer of 1987.

I lived about 30 kilometers from the German-French border then and first heard this on a French radio station one morning while driving my German girlfriend, Tanya, home after she’d spent the night at my house. It was a quiet ride as my Firebird barreled down the L465 roadway from my town, Martinshöhe, to her home in Zweibrücken; we were both deep in thought and hardly spoke–which was normal because, between us, we barely spoke each other’s languages–and after this song finished we looked at each other and nodded in agreement, wow, what a lovely song.

I asked her, “Kennst du diese Lied, Liebling?”

“Nay,” she replied.

“I think we should,” I declared.

And we did get to know that song. It was a great summer for music and this became our favorite. It was just a great summer all around.

Well…until that August when Tanya caught me coming out of a movie theater in Homburg, hand-in-hand with a very pretty American girl, Heather, with whom I had been blithely cheating on Tanya for weeks. That was the end of Tanya and me. A year later I learned from Tanya’s best friend that Tanya died of a cerebral aneurysm about eight months after we split up. She was 20. Wow. She was a beautiful, brilliant, and intense girl I loved dearly. I was just a lousy person when I loved her.

My Perfect Pop Music Mix

11/2/2003 – Philadelphia/Atlanta/Memphis

This is an old blog entry of mine from 2003 of which I wouldn’t change a word in 2014.

It is impossible in a seventy minute, twenty-song CD to encompass all of the incredible pop music I have loved in my life. I have always had a weird and eclectic taste in music, but while watching an episode of a cable television show in the late 70’s (Night Flight?), I was first introduced to the amazing Punk and New Wave music scene that was taking over Britain. The show introduced me to artists like Throbbing Gristle, XTC, Joy Division, Squeeze, The Clash, Tubeway Army, Gang of Four, Japan, and Boomtown Rats; finally I found the music of my generation! Therefore, a majority of my selections hail from that era or were bands and artists that sprung from its roots. But not all, as you shall see.

Listening to music is a very personal experience, every person has his or her taste that greatly differs from mine, and I’m certainly not one of those dorks who thinks the music I listen to is the hippest or coolest. To be honest, I haven’t listened to many of the selections on this list in the last few years, but I still hark back to them when I’m in the mood. Moreover, I could name hundreds of classical music pieces I’d rather recommend than boring old pop music, but I thought it would be fun to list a pop music compilation I’d recommend to the world. This took me over a week to write, as I was constantly adding and removing songs from it in a furious attempt to list my twenty absolute pop favorites. Tomorrow I will probably wake up and want to change the entire list, so I’d better post this now or I’ll go mad trying to change it.

Here’s my perfect pop mix, in no particular order, although the last three are my sentimental favorites.

  1. Whenever You’re on My Mind by Marshall Crenshaw (1983). This song takes me back to 1983 and all the incredible memories of that pivotal year in my life. Marshall Crenshaw was a pop artist extraordinaire who burst onto the scene in 1982 and brought back Buddy Holly’s long-lost mojo to the airwaves. I could probably place on this list four or five songs from his first two records, Marshall Crenshaw and Field Day, and not disappoint the listener—dude was that awesome. This song has a sweet and perfect melody that’s timeless and will yank even the most miserable and depressed person out of a funk. This guy should have been huge, but his idiot record company had no idea how to market him. Thank God some of us were conscious enough to enjoy Crenshaw without being prodded.
  2. While You See a Chance by Steve Winwood (1981). This is one of the finest pop songs ever recorded, a song so beautiful and spiritual that it uplifts my mood every time I hear it—and I’ve heard it many times since its release in 1981. I had never been a big fan of Winwood (or Traffic or The Spencer Davis Group) before or since he released Arc of a Diver, but this song remains a favorite of mine after all these years. If this song cannot make you smile and sprout goose bumps, then perhaps you should seek professional help.
  3. Iceblink Luck by The Cocteau Twins (1990). The most amazing aspect of Elizabeth Frasier’s singing voice is that you don’t care you cannot understand the lyrics she sings. Do words have to mean anything when sung this beautifully? On the entire album Heaven or Las Vegas, Frasier sings like she’s stoned out of her mind and having one long, toe-tingling, breathless orgasm, and after listening to it so do you. There are few records better suited to play while making love or just lying on the floor late at night, stoned, snuggled next to the one you love, savoring the beauty of breathing.
  4. Dancing Barefoot by The Patti Smith Group (1979). A really cool girl I met in my high school painting class turned me on to Patti Smith in 1979. I have forgotten her name, but she was definitely not your typical girl from Terre Haute, Indiana. She was an equal parts punk/hippie, beautiful beyond belief, and a talented and brilliant artist and poet; she was very shy and reserved and had few friends, and spent most of her time listening to music and painting. I loved her about as much as a 15-year-old, testosterone-drunk, knucklehead boy could ever love a girl. She had a look and style about her in 1979 that many young “hip” girls have today, which proves what an original she was back then. Sadly, she dated much older guys (in their 30’s) and treated me like her retarded kid brother, but we became pals and she was always turning me on to cool music. Her favorite was Patti Smith, who wrote two of my favorite songs of all time, this one and “Because the Night.” Choosing which one to include on this collection is like choosing which twin child to keep and which to give away. When I hear “Dancing Barefoot” I always think about that goddess from my art class who moved away after our sophomore year, and all the yummy fantasies I had about her for the next twenty years. I traveled back to my hometown recently to visit my mother, and while there I went to the public library to look up this girl in my high school’s old yearbooks, but the copy they had for the 1978-1979 school year was missing from the library’s collection. I’m sad because I cannot even remember her name, and now I can’t even remember exactly what she looked like. But her spirit lives on when I hear this song.
  5. Fantasy by Earth, Wind & Fire (1977). Philip Bailey’s finest singing performance is on this ethereal funk classic from one of the greatest bands of the 70’s. This is a song of hope and unity, and for a kid like me—who at 13 moved to a racially mixed town and attended a mixed school—I took this song’s message to heart. I remember the black and white kids would razz each other about music. The white kids would brag about Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith and dare the black kids to name one black band that cool, and some black kid would say, “Earth, Wind and Fire,” and the white kids would mutter, “Oh, yeah, they are cool.” And that was that because everyone knew a higher percentage of white kids dug EWF than black kids dug Led Zep. After all, no self-respecting dude ever slow danced with a cutie to “Black Dog” or “Stairway to Heaven.” Hell no. Even the most racist redneck or longhaired head banger slow danced to “That’s the Way of the World” because it was sexy and romantic and put her in the mood to make out. You can’t do a bootie grind on the dance floor to “Dream On,” now can you? So ultimately it was music that brought us all together, black and white kids, in 1977 in that small town in Indiana. We white boys turned our black friends on to Yes, Rush, and Thin Lizzy, and they turned us on to Parliament, The Commodores, and LTD. A pretty good trade, eh?
  6. In God’s Country by U2 (1987). Can most people remember in vivid detail the greatest day of their life that did not involve getting married, having a child, or some other significant life ritual or event? What if the greatest day of your life involved nothing more than riding the German Bundesbahn Intercity Express train from Kaiserslautern to Duisburg, and on that train you met the most beautiful girl you’ve ever met, talked with her until she got off in Koblenz, and never saw her or heard from her again? What if the kiss she gave you as she left was the BEST kiss you ever had in your life? What if you were listening to The Joshua Tree—not one of your favorite records, but still a pretty good one from a band of pretentious drips you barely tolerated—on your Walkman, and when the train stopped in Mannheim she got on the same train, entered the same compartment, and sat in the seat facing yours right at the moment this song played? What if from the moment she sat down, the almost magical juxtaposed sound of the Edge’s acoustic and electric guitar strumming at the beginning of this song sounds like trumpets from heaven announcing an angel was in your presence? And she smiled at you? And you smiled back? And then she got up from her seat and sat next to you? Then she pulled off your headphones and asked, in German, what music are you listening to that makes you smile so much? Then she tells you her name is Tanya, she’s 19, and can she sit next to you? And that she held your hand almost immediately and told you she’d never talked to an American GI before, and then asked all kinds of questions about America? How you told her you hadn’t been home in two years, you could care less about what was happening back in America, and that you probably knew less about America in 1987 than she did? How that news made her laugh and hug you? How you shared the Fanta soda she brought with her and you both munched on the Oreo cookies and Triscuits you brought? Could you imagine that being the best day of your life? It was mine.
  7. What Difference Does it Make? (The Peel Sessions Version) by The Smiths (1985). This version was released on the compilation A Hatful of Hallow and is my favorite Smiths song. The version on their eponymous debut album sounded overproduced and muddy; this was recorded live in the studio for the BBC’s John Peel Show and is tight and spare, which gives it a punk edge. Either one loved the Smiths deeply or hated them with every fiber of one’s being; there was no in-between. The fact they didn’t make videos was cool, and Morrissey was a delightful antithesis to the Led Zeppelin/Aerosmith/Van Halen crotch rock god archetype—plus, let me tell you, the Smith’s music was fucking amazing from 1983-1987. When they broke up in 1987 it was as devastating to their fans as it was for the general public when the Beatles split in 1970. I loved the Smiths from the first moment I heard them, and although I rarely listen to them these days, I still smile when I do. Great moments in my life happened while the Smiths were playing on my Walkman, boom box, or stereo. Great, great moments.
  8. More than This by Roxy Music (1982). I have had sex to Roxy Music’s masterpiece, Avalon, more than any other record (Heaven or Las Vegas comes in a close second, REM’s Murmur third). Back in the 80’s I usually always played Avalon on the first night I slept with a girl. You might say it was my gettin’ nookie modus operandi to slap this on the turntable, turn down the lights, and work my super sexy moves on the babe du jour. The girls I was with back then might not have considered that first night of passion with me memorable, but damn near every one of them wanted to go out the next day and buy Avalon. I think Brian Ferry should pay me royalties for all the copies of his record I sold to my assignations.
  9. Shiver by Coldplay (2000). This was the first song I heard by this magnificent pop band from London, and for me it was like the first time I heard REM or The Smiths—instant love. By 2000 I was listening to very little pop music, but that summer and fall I was dating a much younger woman (she was 21, I was 37) who introduced me to tons of new and cool music, and in turn I introduced her to all the cool music of my younger years. So she introduced me to OK Computer by Radiohead and she got Ocean Rain by Echo & The Bunnymen; I got The Foo Fighters and Sublime and Beth Orton and she got Joy Division and The English Beat and Patti Smith; I got Fuel’s “Shimmer” and she got Kissing the Pink’s “Certain Things are Likely.” And we both fell in love with Parachutes by Coldplay, which is the first great pop record of the new millennium.
  10. Caravan of Love by Isley/Jasper/Isley (1985). Pure magic from a family that has been making Soul magic since before I was born. I was tempted to include this version and the A Capella version by the quirky English lads from Hull, The Housemartins, because both are beautiful and moving. Pop music styles have come and gone since 1960, but the Isley Brothers have made gorgeous and moving music that transcends the fickle trends of any given era.
  11. Turn It On Again by Genesis (1980). I have never been a fan of Genesis or Phil Collins, but this song mesmerized me when I was 17 and it has been one of my all-time favorites. I think to a certain extent Collins, Banks and Rutherford could feel the New Wavers breathing down the neck of all the pre-Punk art-rock bands, so they jumped on the bandwagon a bit on Duke and Abacab, but of course added their lofty art-rock pretensions. With this song it worked beautifully.
  12. Pilgrimage by REM (1983). Just a great song: perfect, timeless, strange, sublime, beautiful. Say what you want about REM (even I agree they became insufferable wankers after 1986), but from 1981 to1986 they were the best band in America, certainly the most creative, exciting, and important new artists to hit the scene since the New York Punk/New Wave bands like The Patti Smith Group, Television, and the Talking Heads. In the late 70’s and early 80’s nearly all the best and most creative bands and music came from Britain. Then came Murmur, probably my second favorite record of the 80’s (London Calling was number one—but wasn’t it released in ’79?). I cannot even remember how many times my friends and I listened to Murmur in 1983, but I do know we played it more than any other record that year. Every song on Murmur is bold, new, different, brilliant, quirky, and gorgeous. You listen to the record fifty times and hear something new every time. REM’s next two records, Reckoning and Fables of the Reconstruction, were great records, although not quite as perfect as Murmur, but head and shoulders above most of the horrible crap that AOR radio was playing in ‘84-‘86. The sad irony of REM is that they started selling records and became a household name long after they were good.
  13. It’s a Shame About Ray by the Lemonheads (1994). It’s a shame about Evan, ironically. This darling of the 90’s “Alternative” scene (oh, how I hated that term!) wrote a few lovely pop tunes, then disappeared into a drug haze for the rest of the decade, never again to fulfill the massive promise he displayed on this gem of a pop tune. I have always been a sucker for a simple, Alex Chilton-like jingle-jangle guitar pop song (just look at this list), and Evan definitely wrote and performed a classic song in that vein here. It’s so perfect and sweet that I feel like I need a shot of insulin to bring me down when it ends.
  14. Best Friend by The English Beat (1983). This song is the definitive English Pop moment when the Mods met the Rude Boys, created the 2-tone sound, and wrote the perfect pop song. The Specials were cool and definitely have a special place in my musical heart, and other bands that mixed Ska and Reggae with Rock were super-duper (The Police, UB40, Madness, The Clash, etc.), but the Beat had a tighter and more danceable and fun sound than all those bands. The Police had quite a few great songs (but ultimately more annoying ones than good ones) and one great album—Zenyatta Mondatta—but by the time they released their wretchedly grandiose swan song, Synchronicity, Sting had become the most self-absorbed, laughably pretentious, and overrated artist in the pop universe. Don’t get me wrong, I was a huge Police fan back in the day and once admired Sting, but after Dream of the Blue Turtles I’ve ignored him and his music. The Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom.” is the one song most people remember from the Beat, but “Best Friend” was always my favorite Beat song, a peppy and spirited feast for the ears that literally forces you by its brazen exuberance to get off your ass and “oscillate wildly” like a Rude Boy in a porkpie hat and retro-Mod suit. It’s a shame that Wakeling, Steele, and Cox—the artistic heart of the English Beat—could not keep this incredible band together, because they broke up right around the time they were beginning to get attention in America, and all three proved how great they were by forming new bands that did quite well on the charts; however, together they were often brilliant, while apart they were merely good and quickly forgotten. What General Public missed was the Cox/Steele ska-boppity bass and jingle-jangle guitar hooks; what the fine Young Cannibals missed was Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger—Roland Gift’s voice was incredibly annoying, and Cox and Steele just couldn’t write a pop song quite like Wakeling. The English Beat, The Clash, and REM were my favorite bands in the early 80’s, but in retrospect the Beat have held up better twenty years later. They still make me want to oscillate wildly.
  15. Physical Attraction by Madonna (1983). Hey, I am president of the Madonna haters club, folks. But I fucking love this song. Yes, go ahead and laugh at me if you want, you turds. Then go find a copy of this song and play it; if you’re not up off your ass dancing after the opening bars, then I bet you are deaf and stupid—or just a loser. This was the best song Madonna ever recorded (which ain’t saying much, but whatever). I loved it in 1983 and I love it now. I’m not gay, but a couple of my gay friends swear my love for this song proves I’m obviously blocking my gay side from coming out. I don’t know about that (like, come on, I pop a major woodie over Anna Kournikova pics, for crying out loud!), but I certainly adore this song. Yes, it has those laughably silly, “I’m a naughty slut, use me, boy” lyrics. Yes, Madonna’s singing voice has a Jewish American Princess, all nasal and atonal and whiny sound to it. All I remember is that I lived in a coed barracks at Fort Sam Houston when Madonna’s debut record came out in ‘83, we’d throw huge parties at the EM club and play the motherfucker straight through, and everyone—girl, guy, African-American, Jewish-American, Italian-American, Mexican-American, Chinese-American, Puerto Rican-American, Korean-American, Indian-American, Samoan-American, Cuban-American, lesbian-American, gay-American, straight-American, bi-American, redneck-American, and me, who everyone in my class called “Abdul” because when I first arrived at Ft. Sam I told everyone I was converting to the Nation of Islam—would dance his or her fucking ass off to it. Never had I seen such an awesome mélange of beautiful young people hooking up than I did at medic school at Ft. Sam—I mean, everyone was fucking everyone in a giant Rainbow People orgy, it was insane, we were right out of Basic Training and the horniest bunch of dorks ever assembled on one dance floor—and we owed it all to that naughty boy toy, Madonna, and her naughtiest of naughty songs, “Physical Attraction.” There HAS to be something subliminal in this song that drives me crazy, I dunno. So laugh at me, I don’t mind.
  16. Are Friends Electric? by Tubeway Army (1979). This song was the opening volley of the Techno attack in pop music that continues today in its many wonderful forms; what an amazing and original song this is! Tubeway Army’s Gary Numan was the original cyberpunk, and his cool and detached approach to beautifully written and highly danceable pop songs took electronic music out of the hands of boring and faceless German experimental bands like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream and turned it into a pop and dance club revolution that is still around in 2003. The Germans were making cool music, but Numan gave it a post-punk edge and look. He trumped all his contemporaries by being SynthPop’s first mega-star—remember how huge Numan’s 1980 hit “Cars” was in America, the land of Journey and REO Speedwagon and the Eagles?—and the SynthPop artists that followed in his massive wake (Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, Human League, Yazoo, OMD, Thomas Dolby, Talk Talk, Eurhythmics, A-Ha, Berlin, Book of Love, etc), while great, could never match the breathless originality of this 1979 Tubeway Army classic. SynthPop died quickly, but from its smoldering ashes Techno—a mix of SynthPop and Chicago and Detroit House music—arose and still remains, in its numerous hybrid forms, the preferred dance club music of the cool kids. Numan was to Techno what Elvis was to Rock and Roll; this song is Techno’s “Jailhouse Rock.”
  17. Live Forever by Oasis (1994). Noel and Liam Gallagher are assholes, yes, but Oasis had a four-year run in the mid-90’s when they were untouchable, easily one of the best bands of that era, if not one the best ever. I knew after the first time I played Definitely, Maybe that I was going to love this band as much as I once loved the Smiths, Buzzcocks, Clash, or early REM. They had all the swagger and crass arrogance of the late 80’s Manchester scene, but were better because Noel was peerless when it came to writing brilliant pop hooks, plus he didn’t destroy his mind with drugs like the Happy Monday’s Sean Rider or the lads in the Stone Roses. What killed the Manchester music scene was what killed the Seattle sound: smack and too much fame too soon. The one Manchester scene survivor was Noel Gallagher, who was a roadie of sorts for the Inspiral Carpets and who, it turns out, was the most talented pop music songwriter of all the Manchester lads, maybe better than Morrissey and Marr or Pete Shelley. “Live Forever,” “Supersonic,” “Don’t Look back in Anger,” “Wonderwall,” and “Champagne Supernova” are five songs that would make any songwriter other than Dylan, John, and Paul green with envy. No, I am not kidding.
  18. Senses Working Overtime by XTC (1982). A masterpiece of New Wave pop by one of my favorite bands. This song breaks every pop rule—it’s weird and goofy sounding, it changes tempo continuously, and Andy Partridge sounds like a barking seal when he sings—yet it succeeds brilliantly because of all the rules it breaks. Partridge and the other genius songwriter in XTC, Colin Moulding, wrote at least ten songs (this one, Dear God, Making Plans for Nigel, Love on a Farmboy’s Wages, Mayor of Simpleton, Are You Receiving Me, Grass, Life Begins at the Hop, Great Fire, Generals and Majors) that should have been huge hits, but sadly were not. They were too weird for radio and too ugly for MTV in the early 80’s, so they toiled in relative obscurity and had a little fame in the college radio/Alternative scene, but never sold many records. What a shame. “Dear God” and this song are as good—maybe better—as any song by The Beatles. C’est la vie.
  19. In Between Days by The Cure (1985). This is my favorite pop song of the 80’s, hands down. Robert Smith was a silly geek and had a fairly annoying voice, but he managed to produce great song after great song throughout the decade. Just when I thought I was sick of The Cure, they’d put out another amazing record and I’d fall in love all over again. I haven’t paid much attention to them since Disintegration, but for many years they were one of my favorites.
  20. Train in Vain by The Clash (1979). This is the greatest band of my generation—the only band that mattered—at its artistic peak. I thought it was cool that the best song on London Calling was the “hidden” track not listed on the record’s jacket sleeve—they didn’t list “Train in Vain” because they felt it was too commercial and were a little embarrassed about that; how fucking Punk is that? This is their greatest song and their finest pop moment, and they wouldn’t even acknowledge its existence on the record! You had to find it. Imagine Nirvana hiding “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Nevermind. Yeah, right. In the last twenty-four years I have owned four copies of London Calling, three on vinyl and one on compact disk. It remains my all-time favorite record, although I hardly play it any more. When Joe Strummer sacked Mick Jones in 1983, I was so furious I quit listening to The Clash for many years out of protest, but of course I’ve long since forgiven Joe and they’re back on my play list. When Joe died last year I was deeply saddened.

Unpatriotic Games

The American right wing has always been crazy, malevolent, sleazy, and irrational, but what we’ve learned during this freeing of American POW Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is that, no matter how completely nuts we thought the right wing was, it has elevated its madness to a magnitude we thought unreachable even by the craziest of crazy.

Don’t even bother discussing the facts surrounding Bergdahl’s capture, whether he deserted or not, or how many soldiers (or not) allegedly died trying to rescue him, because if the right wing ignores glaringly obvious and true facts during its bull in the china shop rampages on our American democracy, why do we bother fact checking the moronic right who shows little regard for facts in the first place, knowingly, and without a hint of regret or contrition for these facts it so blithely ignores to create its phony narratives? Let’s just call the right wing crazy liars and move on. Trying to make reasonable arguments with irrational, crazy, and myopic people is pointless any more.

For the American right wing, Obama cannot win a single public relations victory. He must be called a failure, traitor, un-American, and any other pejorative they can muster, moreover he be must be castigated relentlessly whether he’s done good or bad deeds. There can be no positives with regards to his actions as President in the eyes of the American right wing. Meanwhile poor, hapless pawns like SGT Bowe Bergdahl suffer public lynchings of their character and actions well before they’ve been granted due process, all because these poor bastards like Bergdahl made the horrible mistake of having some sort of connection to President Obama or his actions.

Screw the right wing. I say we just ignore its unpatriotic games and continue to do what’s right for America despite their insane obstructionist tactics and unrelenting negative PR campaign against Obama.

Whatever SGT Bow Bergdahl did, he didn’t deserve this public lynching; he deserves due process, not to be thrown to the drooling mob as he’s been this past week since his release from Taliban captivity. Perhaps he did desert his post. So what? He was still an American POW who deserved to be rescued by any means necessary to get him home. Even a piece of shit soldier serving in an American uniform deserves to be part of the “never leave a man behind” ethos we’ve extolled for generations. There are no exceptions. Screw the right wing for spitting on this time-honored military ethos for its own weird, malevolent, and insane political narrative in, once again, denying Obama any sort of positive PR. Most of the babbling right-wing media dirtbags have never been fit to serve fries at Burger King, let alone in the uniform of the American military. These people are despicable shitbags by every reasonable measure.

Fuck them all.

The Ungovernable

Please read this brilliant piece in The New Yorker:

Schooled: Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg had a plan to reform Newark’s schools. They got an education by Dale Russakoff

Another brilliant work of real journalism in the New Yorker magazine. One must ask these earnest and highly educated elites–who are also unbelievably, childishly, naive–trying to “reform” urban public education two simple questions they apparently ignore at their own peril: Do you even recognize how ungovernable the urban poor have become? How can you reform anything without truly understanding those who you wish to reform?

Just because you have a trunk full of PhDs and impressive credentials–and boatloads of high-minded ideals–doesn’t mean you understand even in the slightest the abject peril of violence, neglect, and unbelievable stupidity at the core of our urban poor nowadays. Kids are failing in urban schools because the world around them long ago crashed and burned for many generations now. You cannot fix education without first fixing the failed culture in which these children live. If any of you think you have the solutions, I’d love to hear them, because they are so complex, and require the kind of moral and ethical leadership this country hasn’t had in 50 years, that even understanding the true problem is virtually lost in the complexities of modern urban poverty and the fucked-up politics of modern American urbanity where large populations of poor blacks are concentrated.

The writer is an elite who recognizes that the elites trying to reform education are largely blinded by their own elite sensibilities. “Let’s fix the dirty negroes.” But has anyone asked the dirty negroes if it’s OK? Or tried very hard to include them in this fascist takeover of their democratic system? This occupation regime lording the ignorant poor in the ungovernable ghettos–is this the right way to govern? That’s New Jersey, folks. The local systems fail so the state takes it over and lines the pockets of its army of “reformers.” The kids be damned. Society be damned. Fuck democracy.

The public corruption, widespread stupidity of the masses, and largely apathetic citizenry cannot be fixed in a couple of years. This has gone on for generations. It will take generations–if anyone has the guts–to unravel, fix, and reform the teeming manure piles that are our worst urban ghettos. Where will we first find the courage to act? Secondly, who will pay for it? Thirdly, and most importantly, how do we engage the very people we are trying to help? How do we heal them and make them part of the process?

There are no quick, easy fixes.

Let’s first state the obvious:

1. Booker and Christie never gave a fuck about education reform. Both just want to be President. Their “concern” was a short-term political stance. That led to more tragedy than success. They are not leaders, they’re ambitious political climbers and actors who fake being “strong” and “in charge.” As the article states, Booker spent more time on profit-gaining speaking tours while supposedly working as Mayor of Newark, to the tune of nearly $2,000,000 earned on some 90 speaking engagements. And the opposition leader in Newark to the reform is some vile creep who is drawing $200,000 in salary from two public positions as a public school administrator and public official. Rats on BOTH sides. Plus all the high-minded white elites milking HUGE “consulting” fees from the tit of the whale.

2. The urban poor are largely ungovernable. No one wants to admit this. As a resident of one of the largest cities with the highest percentage of urban poor, I see it every day how ungovernable the uneducated, chaotic, nihilistic, and violently stupid poor have become. All these high-minded, educated elites are clueless about the core mentality that is possessed by the urban poor. Governing these mostly retarded and violent societal untouchables is impossible because it’s impossible to understand what makes these fucking idiots tick. All the poverty, neglect, and stupid anger has crossed so many generations and is so deeply ingrained in their mentality that it’s virtually impossible to understand by the rest of us not raised in that cesspool. And those who escape to succeed cannot, or have not, articulated this well. It’s like the first step to reform is to send undercover agents to live among the seedy lowlifes and figure out how they think. Then maybe we can help them. All these top-down solutions, while noble-minded, never work and in fact agitate the dissent. You CANNOT expect lowlifes to understand the need to uplift themselves if this isn’t a core value in their belief system. Education reform cannot work without parallel social reforms and some sort of social healing of the mental pathologies that cripple the poor. This is where the failure has been so abject. The reform can only come when these lowlifes take charge and uplift themselves AND the process. How do you find leadership in leaderless pools of mostly ignorant dregs?

3. In my opinion, the only way to “win” here is through some sort of totalitarian takeover of urban areas. To remove the drugs, guns, and illegitimacy. But this violates every aspect of our constitution. Ergo we will never break this cycle. Ergo we’re fucking doomed.

That’s the USA in 2014. Ungovernable except in the polite suburbs. And doomed.