About matscheck

Matthew C. Scheck is an automation engineer, freelance writer, and former US Army Medic. Mr. Scheck resides in Philadelphia and travels extensively for work and pleasure.

A Brief Confession

It’s 1968. I was a wee lad that year, a precocious, rascally, blond-haired goofball filled with unbridled energy and joie de vie, the youngest child of nine and spoiled beyond reason, and my favorite song was The Rain, The Park & Other Things by The Cowsills, mainly because I adored little Susan Cowsill, who on every TV performance seemed so perfectly flighty, silly, and adorable to my five-year-old self, moreover, like me, she was the baby of a huge family, thus we were kindred souls, which of course meant I was madly in love with her and this amazing psychedelic bubblegum monster hit. I imagined that she and I would blissfully skip down the hill on 22nd Street next my house, hand in hand, singing this perfect song. And then we’d smooch a little. I am sure most boys my age in 1968 thought the same thing about her. And yet I knew I was her one and only boy. She was my Flower Girl. Silly me.

I was five in 1968, and while vaguely aware of the tumultuous events of that trying time, I was mostly oblivious like any other kid. I remember the morning after Bobby Kennedy was shot, as my Mom’s friend Barb Schneider and Mom, grief-stricken and shocked, sat talking about it all morning while watching the news reports on TV. I have vague recollections of the Vietnam War, mostly that I wanted to be a soldier when I grew up, and that’s exactly what I did when I was 19. I remember a little about Mom and Dad and my older brothers and sisters watching on TV the events of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and all the crazy street protests by the hippies getting smashed by the Chicago PD. I don’t have many memories of all that insanity and turmoil in 1968, really, just vague flashes mostly.

What I do remember vividly were the great memories with my family and friends, and of course the amazing music on the radio. Or when a favorite music act appeared on Ed Sullivan or some other variety show on TV. Those memories are still in technicolor and stereo in my mind. Life was grand in the late 60s on my personal level. My family was happy, healthy, and thriving. My neighborhood was safe and filled with great people. My best friends were Jon Ramsey, Buzz Phillips, and Terrence Thrap, and we were midget Tom Sawyers that summer, nutty, bold, and adventurous. One couldn’t find a happier kid than I was at that age.

I’m an old man now, with most of my life behind me, and yet this song still brings me more joy than just about any other in the history of pop music. It takes me back to that vivacious, spirited, nutty kid I was in 1968, who once—just once!—wanted to smooch with little Susan Cowsill, my eternal beloved, my Flower Girl.

Make America Sane Again

The Lords of the Deplorables, President Donald Trump and his faithful Fox News apologist and chief fluffer, Sean “MAGA-Douche” Hannity

It’s time to address the gigantic elephant in the room: How much damage to our American democracy can we tolerate by Trump and his insane posse, which are the following: loyal partisan shit-for-brains minions who gladly and willfully violate both the Constitution and legislated laws to protect the outlandish behavior of their psychopathic leader with his blithe venality and arrogant disregard for the rule of law; science-and-reason-and-logic-denying right-wing Jesus-freaks who wish to turn the USA into their private theocracy where their creepy religious dogma becomes federal law; hyper-malevolent rednecks and xenophobes and racists who want America to be white and Christian regardless of what non-white, non-Christians want; Fox News limp-wristed-quasi-fascist dork commentators (especially Hannity and Tucker “Why do we give a damn what this smug, douchie, tubby asshole says?” Carlson); idiotic elderly “get off my lawn” grouches who blame their shit lives and miserable disposition on everyone but themselves; and, mostly, the creepy oligarchic assholes financing it all who merely want all power rested in their control at the expense of the remaining 300 million citizens of the USA? Oh, how much damage this gaggle of virulently power-grubbing swine have done in the last three years. Too much.

Yes, America, we’re in a real pickle. Due to our uniquely weird Constitution, with its insane  “two voting US Senators for each state even if that state has about 50 booger-eating idiots living in it while California by itself has 40 million people, is the fifth largest economy in the world (greater than the UK’s, which has 26 million more people than Cali!), and yet is represented by the same number of US Senators as these booger-eating DakotaWyomingTuckyDelaVermontTana states, where there are virtually no people and hardly any economy worth noting, and the equally appalling Electoral College where, as we saw in 2016, the winner by more than 3 million national votes lost to a far less popular candidate. Trump bragged about his “HUGE” victory, but, really, he took his sister to the prom and probably paid her to do so. Whooopee, Donald.

Some democracy we have in the USA. It’s a rigged democracy and we all know it. Trump and his foolish gang of thieves and liars and power-hungry creepies have just exploited it through clever gerrymandering and denying voting rights to millions of black and brown folk. Meanwhile the true majority must sit back and get royally corn-holed by this power-mad and insane minority-rule cabal of horrible ideas, grubby-greedy-sleazy wealth hoarding while tens of millions of citizens fall into poverty and ill health (our life expectancy in the USA since 1997 has declined while the rest of the “civilized” world experienced increases), and complete indifference to the fact our planet’s climate is heading to an Armageddon-like awfulness, sooner rather than later.

For the rapacious and power-nutty far-right and its oligarch overlords, it’s all about four simple things:

1. Tax cuts for the ultra-rich at the expense of everyone else. A simple wealth grab, period. A class war in which the upper 1/2 of 1% is kicking the crap out of the remaining 99.5%. You know, these super-wealthy “winners,” they need more yachts and vacation homes and private jets and Bentleys and caviar. They worked so hard to get where they are while the rest of us sat on our fat asses watching TV and popping Oxy. That’s what they think of we the lesser beings with no wealth. Bloomberg more or less said this in his first debate with the other Democratic candidates in Las Vegas. Oh, how hard he, and he alone, worked to make himself so fabulously rich. All those secretaries and IT techs and janitors who worked for Bloomberg, what a bunch of lazy bastards! They so deserve their meager wages compared to his bloated and obscene wealth thousands of times greater than their meager earnings. He did it all HIMSELF! Get it, losers? You deserve to be shit poor while he deserves to possess more wealth than a hundred million Americans combined. Tough titty. He and his ilk have rigged the game in their favor. Share their wealth? Screw YOU, commies. We’re merely their servants.

2. Criminalizing a woman’s right to control her reproductive choices to appease the Jesus freaks who apparently care more about this than the income inequality that makes a vast majority of these twits as poor and screwed as everyone else. Their willingness to self-destruct in order to maintain their religious “purity” is astonishly short-sighted and pathetic.

3. Cutting all government regulation even though most of it works fabulously at protecting the citizenry. Deregulation benefits the rich owner class and resigns the remaining 300 million citizens to living with a filthy air and water and food supply and zero protection from the dangers of unbridled industry, and also offers them mostly slavery-like employment prospects, and moreover forces diminishing political and economic power upon their futures.

4. Lastly, merely destroying anyone politically to the left of Heinrich Himmler and usurping all their purchase of governance. Listen to the mouthpieces of this madcap ideology. They don’t just hate anyone to the left of them, they want to crush them, eradicate them, and burn up even the mere memory they ever existed. Me, Social-Democrat and leftie that I am, just want to tax the super rich more and equitably distribute income more fairly, and maybe live in peace with even the biggest assholes out there if they will back off encroaching on my ability to live and speak and not worship some silly deity freely. That hardly makes me a menace. Yet in their eyes I am not just a fellow citizen who disagrees with these psychopaths, I am their enemy and must be first silenced, then marginalized, and then eradicated. I served my country with honor as a soldier, only to find myself considered unpatriotic and a traitor merely because I disagree with their twisted ideology and its power-rapacious fascism and eliminationalist intent towards its opposition. I, on the other hand, disagree with these morons ideologically, and vociferously so, but I do not wish them dead, nor even a smidgen of ill health upon their being. I just don’t like them and think they are raging assholes. But they are asshole Americans for whom I would have, as a US Army soldier for over seven years, gladly fought to the death with our foreign enemies to protect their right to be wrong and stupid and boorish and fanatically creepy. Notice the difference? (Complete transparency: If Tucker Carlson were lying on the ground engulfed in flames, I wouldn’t even pee on him to save him. Just saying. Even a magnanimous Liberal has limits to his or her compassion.)

That about sums up where we’re at in the USA in 2020. We still have tens of millions of amazing people who work hard, live right, and care about the future of fellow citizens and the planet’s health. Even the categories above that I mercilessly mock contain plenty of truly good folk who either have lost their gaddamn minds or are just wandering in an intellectual wilderness poisoned by their myopia and inability to accept science and facts contrary to their narrow worldview. They may be lost, but essentially most are good people too, patriotic, caring, lawful, mostly neighborly; however they hold acrimonious and often repugnant views, adamantly so, that are based on bullshit and not reality. It’s sad to witness this madness in such normally decent people.

The real zombie apocalypse we face isn’t that a virus has taken over the brains of people; it’s a zombie hoard fueled by the idiotic, deliberately divisive, and utterly specious sophistry and propaganda pumped into their naive brains by the lords of oligarchy and their sinister minions who do their evil work. These vile minions and mouthpieces pump up the hate and malevolence and spite in these sadly misguided, under-informed, and poorly-educated people with a overwhelming deluge of ugly and divisive sophistry and propaganda in order to divide the middle and working classes and keep them at each other’s throats, distracted by this unnecessary in-fighting, and meanwhile out the back door all the wealth of this nation gets put into the clutches of very small group. It’s a brilliant and successful tactic as we’ve witnessed.

The USA is at its heart populated with fine people. However, not enough people are angry enough, and care enough, to truly take back our government, economy, and environment from the destruction caused by this oligarchic coup d’état we’ve witnessed the last 30 years that is finally coming to fruition and turning our democratic republic into a totalitarian state run by the oligarchs, where our citizens have become subjects and serfs to this powerful oligarchic cabal, and meanwhile, sadly, most citizens are oblivious to this transfer of power from the people to the few ultra-rich assholes pulling the strings of our sham democracy.

One thing we must all understand is that Trump is merely the useful idiot propped to the top by the oligarchs because, even to their utter amazement, he’s wildly popular with the “base” peasantry the oligarchs need to vote for their seizure of political power. Trump himself is an egomaniacal fool and blathering buffoon by all accounts and is mostly just the front man for this junta. Trump also provides a tremendously loud voice that echoes the insane irrationality and abject malevolence of his followers, all their weird beliefs and goofy conspiracy theories and boogieman enemies list, and all their disgust with everyone who is not like them and ergo “un-American.” He is the vulgar hammer-wielding champion who expresses even the ugliest thoughts they themselves have been afraid to express openly, and to their delight Trump vows to crush their enemies with this hammer in his hand.

Moreover, no matter how corrupt, incompetent, and morally depraved Trump has been in the past, no matter how disgusting and venal his words and actions are now, his followers oddly forgive him in a way they’d never have forgiven any other public figure. Trump is not only impervious to the purity test to which most politicians and public figures are subjected by the mob, his followers have largely given him a get out of jail free pass. The man has bragged about sexually assaulting women, viciously mocked the handicapped, called Mexicans rapists and murderers, coddled and supported violent fascists at the Charlottesville rally in 2017, and numerous other acts of abject moral depravity, and yet he hasn’t suffered politically with his base, all because he’s as stupid and angry and ugly as they all are, and they adore him for this. King Donald of Redneck Jesusland.

Trump’s asshole populism is like the WWF in the late 90s when it went all “Attitude Era” with beer-swilling Stone Cold Steve Austin flipping the man the bird and exposing his ass to the adoring crowd, and The Rock being all “look at me, I’m a ragingly and cartoonishly egocentric asshole and you love me for it,” which catapulted the WWF into such popular heights that its CEO, Vince McMahon, became a billionaire nearly overnight after crushing his rival the WCW, owned by Ted Turner. Common folk with ugly thoughts love it when some asshole, unbridled and not giving a shit, expresses the deeply-hidden darkness in their damaged souls that they’d be terrified to openly express. They absolutely love it when someone steps to the microphone and lets it all hang out. The more vulgar and insulting, the better! Suck it!

Trump figured out this WWF-like asshole populism (he’d been on the show numerous times in the past, as a matter of fact) in his 2016 campaign and exploited it like no other public figure would have ever dared to try, let alone someone running for President of the USA. Dignity and humility? Screw it. Fair play? That’s for pussies! Taking the high road? LOSERS only! The more assholish he became, the more offensive and shocking his personal attacks against his opponent, the more this behavior made Trump hugely popular with the drooling and angry and stupid masses. Even a flaming racist redneck asshole like George Wallace didn’t have this kind of audacity, and he was a lulu of a divisive asshole in his day, wildly popular with his racist Southern brethren and reviled by most enlightened and thoughtful American citizens.

We have seen this kind of bloviating asshole of a fake populist before in history. In fact, the similarities are ridiculously apparent. Both were idiotic creeps and phony nationalists. Both appealed to the abject ugliness of the common folk. Both laughably claimed that he, and only he, could “save” the nation. Both were cartoonishly demonstrative in their expressions of self-love. Donald Trump, meet Benito Mussolini, your spirit animal.

Let’s compare some of their utterings:

Nationalism über alles:
Benito:”All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”
Trump: “America First!”

Excessive self love:
Benito: “This is the epitaph I want on my tomb: ‘Here lies one of the most intelligent animals who ever appeared on the face of the Earth.'”
Trump: “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!” “People love me. And you know what, I have been very successful. Everybody loves me.” “”I’m also honored to have the greatest temperament that anybody has.”

Shared wisdom:
Benito: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”
Trump (Quoting Benito in a 2016 Tweet): “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” [Trump is more of an orangutan than a lion, but, oh well, to-may-to, to-mah-to.]

Strike a pose, psychic soul brothers:

Il Duce, please meet…

…The Douchebag…

Moreover, why do you think the Jesus freaks love Trump despite the fact he’s the most damaged, sinful, and deplorably immoral contradiction to every tenet of their supposed “Christian” faith? Because he’ll help do their bidding, of course. The man hasn’t touched the Bible his entire life and has about as much spiritual faith as I do (which is none at all), and, let’s be honest, how many abortions do you think he’s financed and covered up with generous non-disclosure agreements during his lifestyle which, according to his shamelessly self-promoted boast, made him the premiere New Yawk high-society cocksman of the 70s and 80s? Pay no mind to the vast amount of lies the man tells on a daily basis. Or how he’s cheated nearly every business and romantic relationship he’s ever had. Despite knowing his well-documented failings as a moral being, the Jesus freaks love Trump more than any public figure I can ever recall.

The Jesus freaks seem to have made Trump infallible to religious criticism like Catholics treat the Pope. Trump is a pig, the Jesus freaks all agree, but he’s their pig. Maybe, the way the Jesus freaks argue about Trump, and I posit existentially, Jesus would have embraced the Roman Emperor Caligula, the wildly nutty autocrat who murdered his sister who he’d impregnated, forced the wives of many prominent Senators and citizens into prostitution during his public orgies to which he made everyone attend, and slaughtered thousands of Roman citizens mercilessly for dubious and often insanely whimsical reasons. But, you know, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, sayeth good ole Jesus. Render unto Trump what is Trump’s as long as he criminalizes a woman’s right to her reproductive system and promotes to the Supreme Court justices who will gladly allow the Jesus freaks to enact legislation marginalizing LGTBQ citizens in their states and locales. Trump is more Baby Huey than Caligula, but they are both examples of inherited wealth and power producing unstable and destructive progeny.

Hey, if Trump grabs a pussy or two or a hundred against the will of the pussy’s owner, dumps two trophy wives in the trash and marries an even more vapid and creepy and inarticulate one for his third, bankrupts nearly every company and capitalist venture he ever ran, lies with every breath he takes, whatever, dude, he’s just Donald being Donald. Obama exemplified every virtuous and clean-living tenet of Christianity like few other Presidents. The right-wing maniacs tried for eight years to dredge up even a molecule of dirt on Obama’s past and could find none. They even resorted to making up phony shit about his birthplace, academic performance, and make-believe friendships with left-wing radicals, all to no avail. And here’s Trump, the most perfect example of an out-of-control moral degenerate if ever there was one, and he’s given a complete pass. It’s only in a zombie-dominated world that this total douchebag of a man man is revered.

Like I said, a madness has infected so many normally sane minds. I must point out, however, that while most Jesus freaks may have been sane in the past, nearly all were hardly logical or governed their thinking with reason and scientific fact. Reality passed over them years ago and it failed to penetrate their simple minds. But still, these people have sunk to a new low in their adoration of this scumbag. Now most are just blindly or myopically nutty-cuckoo fanatical and cannot start terrorizing the non-believers and faggots and dykes and trannies fast enough with theocratic laws that massively violate the Constitution, but course Trump’s SCOTUS will let them run wild. The Handmaiden’s Tale is but a lame warning of the kind of religious tyranny that religious fanatics truly desire.

Obviously the crème de la crème of the white master race. You’d be high on opiates too if you looked this frighteningly awful. Sieg heil, fatties!

The white working class in the Midwest is another sad, sorrowful story. The skyrocketing number of opiate overdoses in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri, among other states in the region, coupled with a huge increase in suicides and ill health and early deaths caused by obesity and smoking and alcohol abuse, all of which has led to a slowly declining life expectancy in these states that has dragged down the national average, points to a massive increase in the existential angst and mental breakdown of these citizens.

Declining incomes and job prospects, and a general decline in living standards, has led to rapidly increasing divorce, illegitimacy, and substance abuse rates among the white working-class denizens of the Midwest since 1997. The numbers are unbearably depressing to look at since I hail from Indiana, one of the hardest hit states by all this opiate addiction madness and all the other social pathologies causing so much self-destruction among its denizens. It has tragically affected my own family back in Indiana, so I understand it from first-hand experience. Time and time again families have been torn apart by this horrible crisis of people abusing themselves to such extremes.

Back in the 60s and 70s when opiate addiction was mainly concentrated in black ghettos in large cities, white Midwesterners couldn’t have given a damn about saving all those poor souls. Now it’s hit them much harder than it ever afflicted the ghettos. Only now it’s a crisis to these people as their own kids are getting sucked into addiction and self-destructive insanity.

The economic and social decline in the Midwest began 30 years ago as its cities turned into the “Rust Belt” as manufacturing, which has provided so many good union jobs for the people, declined as companies moved production to countries where labor was much cheaper and totalitarian governments relaxed environmental and labor protection. Meanwhile these jobs lost were not replaced with comparable transitions, so the people suffered. Most of the young, talented kids left the Midwest to go where the colleges and high-paying jobs were located, so after 30 years anyone “left behind” in these economically-depressed areas lived with diminished job prospects and little hope of social elevation, so why not turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to ease the pain?

When Oxycontin flooded the Midwest in the 00s, and later cheap heroin from the Mexican cartels, a vicious cycle began that has been devastating the Midwest ever since. The finical crisis of 2008, which laid waste to the Midwest (as it did everywhere in the world), where things were already shitty in most rural areas and especially in Rust Belt cities like Toledo, Flint, Dayton, Rockford, Fort Wayne, et al., was like adding gasoline to a fire and accelerated this crisis into tragic proportions. Once people are hooked on dope, it’s an endless nightmare to get off the shit. And more and more people got hooked. And more and more people have died from overdoses.

I can paint a good picture of the crisis, courtesy of the Center for Disease Control. Have a look. It’s frightening. As you can see, the Midwest is the epicenter of this crisis. The good news is there has been a mild decline in a few of these states since 2017, but not enough to say any progress has been made to reverse it. Indiana, my home state, had 1731 OD deaths in 2017 and 1701 in 2019. Ohio: 5337 and 4197. Kentucky: 1574 and 1386. Wisconsin: 1157 and 1188. Michigan: 2632 and 2727. Missouri: 1412 and 1505. Illinois: 1482 and 2900. West Virginia: 1047 and 958. Tennessee: 1816 and 1918. Minnesota: 688 and 679. Pennsylvania: 5795 and 5070. in 2019 in these 10 states, 40,696 people died from overdoses. Add to this total all the suicides not due to drugs, early deaths caused by obesity-related pathologies like diabetes and heart disease, and deaths caused by alcohol abuse, and you have a gigantic pile of dead self-destructed human beings in these “fly-over” states.

So who have white Midwesterners turned to save them? You guessed it, the worst possible person to truly address all the problems these people faced: Donald Trump.

Trump came along in 2016 and somehow convinced this disaffected mass of white working-class people in the Midwest that he was their champion, that he would hear their grievances and do right by them. Oh, did they latch onto this man as their hero! Pay no mind that he offered zero evidence of how he would help them, he just blamed it all on that dirty, non-American-born Muslim President Obama and Trump’s opponent, “Crooked Hillary,” and of course all the murdering and raping Mexicans pouring over the border to take their jobs in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. That was his campaign to woo these people: simple, angry, blithely untrue, and pandering to the lowest depths of existential depravity within them all. Solutions? Sure, he told them, he has the best solutions, though he not once articulated exactly what they were. And how they cheered him at his rallies! Donald the crusading hero. The man of the people! He who had never pumped gas for his cars in his entire life. He wasn’t a man of the people, and, as we know now in 2020, he hasn’t been a man for the people either.

Since 2017 Trump’s actually done nothing to change the plight of the working classes (thank Obama, Trump, you’re riding his wave, dude). Despite all his babbling and phony promises, white people in the Midwest are still shooting up and sniffing dope and drowning themselves to death with booze and shitty, diabetes-inducing food, all with a mindless madness that increases every day. Their incomes have not gone up, they still work shitty jobs like slaves, and their lives are really no better, and in fact worsening, than when Obama was President. But Trump has their vote because he gives them that “Attitude” they love so much. He is the voice of their spite, anger, hatred, and malevolence.

Let’s examine what Trump and his minions have actually done. Or not done, as sometimes doing nothing is a great strategy to make government shrink and become more hated by the people.

Firstly, Trump has done everything he can to debase, destroy, and eradicate our regulatory government agencies. He placed in charge of these regulatory agencies the leaders and CEOs who worked in the industries these agencies regulate. It’s like putting a wolf in charge of protecting the sheep. What the hell would any self-respecting wolf do with such power except gobble up all the sheep? Moreover, Trump has defunded and humiliated our State Department into total irrelevance at a time when diplomacy matters more than any time since before World Word II or the Cold War. His “America” First policy isn’t about benefitting America, it’s about enriching the oligarchy and taking power away from the citizenry, especially the citizenry opposed to his policy of trashing what’s left of our Federal bureaucracy. With no one to mind the sheep pen but the wolves, how will the sheep do anything except bow to the will of these new masters?

Funny too, how the Republican Party whined relentlessly about the national debt under Obama, even as the debt fell over the last four years of his administration, only to become remarkably silent about this very same national debt rising dramatically after Trump’s tax cuts to the super wealthy. The national debt is now greater than it ever was under Obama, even in the dark years after the finical crisis of 2008. What do the Republicans have to say about the huge national debt under Trump? Curiously, not a goddamn peep. Mitch McConnell, who couldn’t stop bitching about the debt under Obama, now has his lips sewn shut about it, apparently. And where’s the goddamn Tea Party, which sprang into existence (with copious financing by Charles Koch and other oligarchs) by their extreme hatred of excessive government spending and ballooning national debt?  Oh, where, oh where, are thee, Tea Party patriots, when the national debt is more bloated than Trump in golf attire after a big burger-laden lunch at Mar-a-Lago? Silence. The slimy hypocrisy of all these unctuous creeps is astonishing. But let’s at least be honest: the Tea Party, and Republican opposition to the national debt, was never actually about the national debt, no-sir-ee; it was about destroying the agenda and legacy of the black guy in the White House. But I digress.

Next up for Trump if he wins in 2020: Grandma’s (and YOUR) Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Cut, cut, cut, bitches, and tough shit if you have to eat cat food in your elderly years, and forget about that hip replacement surgery, Gramps! Your entitlements are getting cut to make Sheldon Adelson even richer. Or Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Or Charles Koch. Or Betsy DeVoss. And, of course, Jared & Ivanka. Ergo, if Trump wins in 2020, wave goodbye to your entitlements that you actually paid for and deserve. Mine too. I’m about 10 years away from collecting my Social Security. I give it a 50/50 chance of being there in full in 2030.

And that’s where we are, America, whether you accept these facts or not. I assure you everything I said above is factual. I may not express these facts with sugarcoated niceties or deliver my message with respectful care and restraint to not injure the feelings of the idiots who don’t accept these facts; my apologies. I cannot help you if you’re too stupid or myopically fanatical to see the folly of your self-destruction in voting for someone who seeks to make us all into serfs and subjects to the power of a few oligarchs who are about to start running things with unbridled majesty and lawless abandon. Trump and his Republican enablers in the Senate and Supreme Court have proven that the man in power, and his groveling, loyal, and insane minions, can do whatever the hell they want. The Constitution is their toilet paper. And you are the idiots who blindly follow this path to totalitarian rule by the few.

You have been warned.


The Politics of (Slam) Dancing: RIP Andy Gill and The Gang of Four

How do I even begin to describe the English Post-Punk band Gang of Four? In the 1980s their music was part of the soundtrack of my insane, picaresque, and highly irregular life, where I quit college and ran off to serve in the United States Army, which took me everywhere and nowhere, often at the same time. It was a time when, while serving my country, I also danced, fucked, drank, and partied nearly every night, so music of course played an immensely important role. And few bands epitomized the insanity as eloquently and brilliantly as Gang of Four. The band’s music was noisy, punky, funky, and thought-provoking, but mainly it was just cool, kind of like my life in my early 20s; it made little sense to anyone, but that was the point.

Sadly, the band’s guitarist, main songwriter, and leader, Andy Gill, passed away on February 1, 2020 at the young age of 64.

So let’s kick off this essay about one of my favorite bands with my favorite song by the band, the first one I heard by them, and of course it was while acting badly that this magical event happened. First give this a listen and then read what I’ve written below. You must hear the band’s music to gain any cogent context to my essay.

Damaged Goods – Gang of Four (1979)

I can recall vividly the first time I heard this maddeningly vibrant and frenetic work of Post-Punk Funk genius. I was at a club in San Antonio called Rocky’s in early February 1983, and on that memorable night the DJ spun a series of crazy songs like this to rev up the crowd of slam dancers who’d taken the dance floor hostage by the sheer number of them. Just before he played this he played Wardance by Killing Joke and Pay to Cum by Bad Brains, two songs of similar fast-paced velocity and angry energy that got Doc Martens boots stomping like no other. Then came this song, with its killer intro where the bass and electric guitar’s nutty interplay kickstarts the jam, and then, a few bars later, the drums propel the band into slam dance nirvana. Rocky’s small dance floor was now packed with guys and girls flailing around as if they were epileptics who’d taken speed.

It was a cathartic moment, to say the least. I generally eschewed slam dancing for its thuggish and hyper-violent stupidity, but on this night I gladly joined the fray like a possessed demon; I was a young soldier in the US Army and had lots of pent-up anger to release with all my gusto. Or maybe some girl had rejected me. Or I temporarily lost my mind. Whatever the case, on that night I felt like slamming around with my fellow moshers with as much sweat and anger and vicious antipathy as I could muster. Since I was a tall, fit, strong, and confident fucker, just a few weeks removed from Basic Training, I was a formidable slam dancer. My memory is clouded about how violent the dancing got that night, but the next morning my hoops buddies at the Fort Sam Houston gym all noticed the copious bruises that covered my torso during a shirts vs skins game and I was a skin.

The irony is that the band, Gang of Four, was pretty much washed up at this point in 1983, although at that moment a new variation of the band, with only two original members, had a cool New-Wavish Disco-like dance track called “Is It Love?” that was popular at clubs, even though it sounded nothing like what made the band famous back in 1979 with its epic debut album Entertainment!. That album was one of the greatest records of its era, highly praised by critics and fans alike, and is now regarded as one of the seminal works of Post-Punk. It was still cool and relevant in 1983, at least to me, since the next day after that epic night of slam dancing at Rocky’s I sought out and bought it at a San Antonio record shop near my Army base. It remained on my active playlist all through the decade and well into the 1990s.

You want some more of this amazing band’s cool music? Here’s another epic tune from their 1979 debut. I can still feel this vibrating out of my orange-padded Sony Walkman headphones from back in the day. Again Gill’s scratchy guitar licks highlight this highly danceable track filled with thought-provoking social critique and Dave Allen’s kick-ass bass line. Singer Jon King growls about being a bored, married, middle-class bloke (at home he’s a tourist) who is looking to fuck a stranger down at the local discotheque where people celebrate the soulless, bland, boringly decadent capitalist lifestyle. You got your shit drink in your hand, a pack of rubbers in your top-left pocket if you get lucky, and all the while you’re dancing to shitty corporate music. Meanwhile your wife, who also feels like a tourist, is contemplating fucking a stranger too. Touché. Fucking brilliant, mate.

At Home He’s a Tourist – Gang of Four (1979)

To describe Gang of Four’s sound is rather difficult other than to declare it was influenced by Punk but also by Parliament-Funkadelic’s funky grooves. Guitarist Andy Gill stripped down his riffs and chords to scratchy, minimalist, detuned funk grooves, but with a hyperactive Punk edge, and his interplay with bassist Dave Allen’s overtly funky lines and drummer Hugo Burnham’s bouncy and frenetic beats created music that was often danceable and yet also induced aggressive feelings amid all that funky noise. That was it, no frills, no sweetness, no moon in June love-dovie shit. It was cool, minimalist Post-Punk funky noise, unpretentious and yet thought-provoking, with lyrics that denounced the English middle class existence as desperately dull, overbearingly repressed, and largely incapable of having much soul. Vocalist Jon King often sneered his parts with his thick English growl, equally desperate and often self-deprecating in his introspection as he lamented the stark and empty life he led amid the colorless society of 70s Britain.

At its best, Gang of Four’s minimalist sound, just the bass, drums, guitar and voice, with no multi-tracking or overdubs or any other studio trick, could be mesmerizing and yet ass-wiggling funky too. Gill’s insistence on laying down the guitar part like fragments of a conversation, with pauses and then a frenetic pulse of noise between Hugo Burnham’s drum beats, while Dave Allen’s bass sketched out the actual melody of the song, if that was what you’d call it, created a groove so electrifying and yet profoundly minimal that you found yourself hypnotized to its pulsing beat. Meanwhile the band injected its socio-political idealism into your brain with carefully-constructed phrases of alienation and irony-free dissent, stating, in effect, “I did what’s expected of me in a capitalist meritocracy system, embracing the process of social elevation through self-improvement and getting a higher education, and yet I’m more fucked than when I started.” Andy Gill and Jon King were shitty Marxists in that they had zero answers in their art, just questions and complaints, but they certainly created a sound that captured the very essence of their existential angst and disgusted self-examination.

I present Exhibit A of this breathtakingly cool minimalist rock art, the superb song Paralyzed from the band’s second album, Solid Gold. It is the very definition of the sound we old timers called “Post-Punk.” It’s difficult, in retrospect, to fully describe how radical and cool this all sounded back then, but, honestly, it still sounds pretty fucking vital 40 years later. This tune as much as any other by the band epitomizes the hypnotic brilliance of its simple yet profoundly masterful sonic delivery.

This wasn’t music readily available in the early 80s at mall record stores, nor did it get airplay on mainstream FM radio stations. I wasn’t even aware of it until 1983. By then the underground music scene was evolving into something else and banished the records by British Post-Punk bands that failed to evolve into the obscure import bins at hippie head shops.

I had to work my ass off just to find Gang of Four’s albums in San Antonio. I do recall that on the day I bought Entertainment I also found and bought the Psychedelic Fur’s new release Forever Now with its super-cool track Love My Way, ABC’s amazing New Wave dance-friendly debut The Lexicon of Love, Depeche Mode’s ultra-awesome Synth-Pop masterpiece Speak & Spell, and U2’s brilliant third album War with its lead single New Year’s Day that MTV introduced to America in February 1983. A great day for my music collection to say the least. I cannot recall a better single-day score than this one. Those five albums, along with Prince’s 1999 and The Time’s What Time Is It?, were the reasons the winter and spring of 1983 fucking ruled in my life. Oh, there’s more to why it was a glorious time, but this cool music was certainly the perfect soundtrack to all the crazy wild shit I did then.

Here’s another monster track, To Hell With Poverty, released in 1981 as a stand-alone single. Again the band’s funky sound plays its complementary role to Andy Gill’s stripped-down, scratchy, noisy, absolutely insanity-inducing guitar licks, and all the while you can imagine slam dancers bopping around wildly to its frenetic pace. Singer Jon King sneeringly implores his lover to join him in relishing the night with cheap wine while forgetting that, in a country of supposed wealth and opportunity run by maniacs, they’re two broke bitches working shit jobs, but to hell with it, have some fun, get drunk, dance, fuck.

To Hell With Poverty – Gang of Four (1981)

At Gang of Four’s center was guitarist and bandleader Andy Gill, who created a new Rock guitar archetype that influenced a whole host of bands in the past 40 years since Entertainment!’s debut in 1979. His twitchy, nervous, barely musical playing invoked a brilliant white noise that was surrounded by his bandmate’s insanely funky interplay. Call it White Punk-Funk. Not as groovy as black Funk, but certainly more cerebral and political. The Red Hot Chili Peppers (Gill produced their 1984 debut), Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, et al., paid homage to this sound, perhaps with their fans largely unaware of the source material, but, alas, that’s Rock & Roll; it’s all good, bro.

As I stated earlier, Andy Gill was only 64 when he died on February 1, a mere eight years older than I am. I am sad because in the 1980s the Gang of Four was seriously one of my favorite bands and played an important part as the background music to my crazy, nutty, weird, and insane life back then. In other words, perfect music for a nearly perfect (perfectly imperfect?) time. You had to be there to understand. Oh my, what a fly on the wall witnessed while observing me in 1983!

You millennials missed so much back in the dark ages before iPhones and apps for everything and Instagram and Amazon and Google and Facebook and all the horeshit that mostly makes your lives fraught with impersonal information overload, fake news and phony outrage over nothing, and zero true physical social interaction with humanity at large. Take away all the time you waste texting and Facebooking and TikToking and Redditing and all that bullshit; what would you do with your time, little millennial sheep?

Ah, what does an old fart like me know? The past is over, so why bother dredging it up? Well, because. Just because. Maybe there’s something to learn in remembering how it was before now. Just maybe. When I hear Gang of Four music I hear the faint echoes of my life well lived then, and how it influenced me to live well now. My true physical youth was long ago, but my brain remains young and vibrant even well into my middle-age years. I look, feel, and act much younger at 56 than 99% of my peers born around the same time. So I must be doing something right. I am not ready to give up on life or quit having fun. Writing about my past life isn’t the lament of some tired old dying fuck, it’s a goddamn joyful celebration of keeping that ebullient spirit within me alive for a hopeful and awesome future. Get it?

Here’s that New Wave Disco tune that was the band’s 1983 swan song. It’s actually cool. Andy Gill also sings lead while bassist Sara Lee kills it with a Bootsie-Collins-esque funk groove. And again, Gill’s guitar work is as masterful as it’s also understated. When I heard this in 1983 I had no idea it was the same band that recorded Damaged Goods until I asked the DJ, “Who made that record you just spun?” Handing me the album cover so I cold write it down (I always carried a small reporter’s notebook and a pen in my back pocket), he tried to defend GoF’s new sound after I was surprised it was by what I thought was a Post-Punk band: “They ain’t sellouts, man, they’re just trying to evolve.” Indeed. If Paul Weller could disband The Jam to form a slick Motown-esque soul group called Style Council in 1983, why couldn’t Andy Gill go all New Wave Disco with GoF? RIP, Mr. Andy Gill.

Is It Love? – Gand of Four (1983)

The Hysterical Age of Unreason

Every new day brings another outrage du jour on Twitter where large gaggles of apparently deeply sensitive people screech incessantly about some HORRIBLE act by someone that requires a hundredfold overreaction that is equal parts bullshit grandstanding and completely specious reactionary blathering. Every time it happens we should have on hand a response that exemplifies this silliness for what it is, pure theater of the absurd.

So when the Christian Lesbian Conservative Transexual Vegan Outrage Coalition expresses its absurdly overreaching and grandstandingly overreactive response to some act or event, let’s just play the following clips instead of reading all the expressed, wildly bloviating outrage over something.

You think slaughtering lesbian chickens for your pro-life-Christian trannies of color rally for vegan Muslim fat shaming non-binary atheists is hunky dory?

OMG!!!! THE HORROR!!!! I’m soooo outraged I could scream! There. We’re outraged. Move on to the next silly made-up controversy of the day. Chicken Little, the sky ain’t falling, you disingenuous dipshit. For fuck’s sake, grow up. You don’t want “justice,” you just want attention.

As for the smugly sanctimonious “woke” crowd engaging in their condescending “douche-splaining” and “cancel culture” about how the rest of us are all barbaric violators of all that is just and good and should be outlawed or at least shamed into obsolescence while they are of course above it all and goody-goody-two-shoes-morally-and-ethically perfect, let’s dust off this classic retort from our favorite absurdly sanctimonious do-gooder of old about YOU, woke person:

I don’t use Twitter and I could care less about joining in on a group-piling-on jack-off fest with faux outrage or laughably ridiculous sanctimony, so, really, just fuck off, people. Like any of you silly fuckwits are really above anyone or anything. Newsflash. You’re not. Hell, I know I’m not, but I would never declare otherwise, especially to make some gas-baggy, hyperventilating rhetorical point.

Pay no mind to the fact I no longer care to learn every silly, nuanced self-described “personal” attribute” or gender identity by which the wokies call themselves. I don’t know what “genderqueer” or any of these other new-fangled identity monikers mean, and frankly I don’t care. I am far from being a homophobe or transphobe as much as I am far from being a sexist, or racist, or even a bully. I don’t feel this way out of hate; I feel it out of sheer indifference to your neurotic self-delusions about who you are, moreover how much you hysterically want ME to care. I don’t. Sorry. But I don’t hate you for this. I_JUST_DON’T_CARE.

Look, you can identify yourself any way you wish, and call yourself whatever your heart desires, but I truly don’t give a fuck about you enough to give two shits what you think you are or what you call yourself, or even how you construct your identity. My inability to keep pace with fashionable terms—and that is what a lot of this “gender identity” hoopla is about, really—doesn’t make me a fiend, a hater, or a bully. I’m just too fucking old and tired to care. I need to know your pronoun? Why? Can’t I just call you by your name? Or some neutral pronoun like you, it, or that? That seems easier than learning all the fashionable names you’ve invented and for which I cannot keep up merely because I am seriously uncool and totally lazy on this subject of self identity. But I’m certainly not a hater. You have a cock but identify as a girl? Cool. Go for it, Sparky. You are a guy who sucks dick? Fantastic, and more power to you! You’re black! Great. Christian? Awesome. Ginormous right-wing, climate-change-denying pro-Trump fuckwit? Yay! Get it? Be whatever you want to be. But whatever that is, do I REALLY have to give a shit?—or just merely respect your right to be that…whatever.

As a liberal thinker since I as a young child, I have always championed the cause of civil rights and liberties for all American citizens, and, when possible, world citizens. I don’t care who you worship, who you fuck, or what your race is, if you’re a biological or self-imagined gender of some sort about which I have no idea because it’s all getting confusing and changes with the wind; what I care about is that we all have the right to be whatever we want without the government or majority or anyone else fucking with our rights to exist in the manner we choose. You’re gay, a person of color, transsexual, vegan, genderqueer, or you worship Jesus or Allah or the fucking devil, whatever, I will gladly defend your right to be whatever you think you are or want to call yourself, even if I am largely indifferent to whatever you are or call yourself. I don’t have to fully agree with your life choices, personal identity, beliefs, or biological being to defend your civil rights in a free democratic republic where all citizens are equal. I do it simply because, as a human being, I want to be treated as I would treat others. And I would hope others think the same. I certainly don’t care if you understand what I think or who I am. Just respect my rights as I respect yours.

Don’t berate me because I don’t fanatically agree with your identity, beliefs, or life choices. I don’t have to, and, frankly, fuck off if you think otherwise. I certainly don’t care what you think about me. I’m a white, straight, left-liberal, atheist, free thinker, non-breeder, and libertine. So what? Those qualities are only important to me. Just respect my right to be who I want to be, because I deeply respect yours regardless if I think you’re a silly fuckwit or a decent person. I don’t know what it is to be “woke,” but I do understand the idea of intellectual enlightenment, where logic, reason, and continual self-education are the massive keys to open the doors closed by stupidity, intellectual myopia, superstition, fanaticism, and prejudice. Have an open mind and allow all ideas to be expressed freely, whether they agree with yours or repulse the fuck out of you. Have the courage to stand up for your convictions, but be careful to the extremes with which you hold your beliefs or expect others to agree with you. If not you will be sorely—monumentally so—disappointed, or worse, you’ll resort to intimidation and violence in your frustration.

I don’t think I am better than anyone any more than I think I am particularly smarter than anyone. But I am reasonable. Logical. Skeptical. Doubtful. Mostly I’m wary of fanatics and fanatical thinking. Excessive self-righteousness to me is a dangerous way of thinking. No, more to the point, it’s a poisonous intellectual position. Tragic. Destructive. Counterproductive.

In the past fanaticism led to genocide all over the world. And to what end? All those poor innocent people slaughtered by fanatics who thought they were more “woke” and supporting the most moral, ethical, right, and just cause. Catholic Inquisitors. Protestant “reformers.” Nazis. Soviet Commissars. Chinese Cultural Revolutionaries. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The KKK. Pro-Life activists who murdered abortion providers. And so forth. Alas, they were not enlightened or even remotely just or right, they were just assholes who used fanatical groupthink, intimidation, and extreme violence to “convince” others of the sanctity of their insane beliefs. Fuck that.

So, please, give me a break, all your wokies, religious fanatics, and hysterical, hyperventilating screamers. I am sure you are not only far from perfect in your sanctimony, you’re probably a bit of a neurotic, ill-informed, and illogical douchebag to boot. Get out of my face. Tone down the shouting and try to calm yourself of your hysteria, real or fake. Please. It serves no substantive purpose other than to call attention onto you, idiot, loudmouth, and asshole that you are. Fuck off.

Ten Great Post-Punk Songs (Revised, February 2020)

After the demise of Britain’s Punk explosion in 1976-77, bands who were influenced by Punk, or had started out as Punk bands, began making music that was more intelligent, experimental, and musically sophisticated than Punk. These bands successfully incorporated traditional rock music structures with a wide variety of underground sounds that were emerging in the British music scene of that era, creating music that was atmospheric, darker than “classic” rock, and highly introspective and introverted but without sounding too experimental or obscure. Most Post-Punk bands experimented with sounds and lyrical structures but never lost their pop sense, so their music is extremely listenable, but at the same time there’s a veritable feast of amazingly new and cool elements to their music that set them apart from the rock & roll that came before them.

It was an exciting era for rock music, and while most of the best Post-Punk bands did not enjoy wide appeal or huge commercial success, their music was massively influential for what would be later known as “Alternative” rock

Update 2-15-2020: Speaking of great Post-Punk bands, upon the death of Gang of Four’s brilliant guitarist, Andy Gill, who passed on February 1, I wrote a long-winded essay about GoF and how much the band’s music meant to my life in the early 1980s when I was a young man trying to smash through an insane world around me. I needed a comparable soundtrack to my frenetic and weird life, and GoF was one of a few bands capable of providing that vital necessity. Neither American radio nor MTV presented artists who fit that purpose, so I spent countless hours perusing the import bins at hippie record shops or querying DJs at “in” clubs to find the music that truly spoke to me at my deepest intellectual level. It’s how my Army buddy Jim Torey and I discovered R.E.M., The (English) Beat, XTC, Killing Joke, Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, and many other cool but obscure (in America at the time, 1983) bands with off-beat sounds. Luckily MTV did present to me in 1983 great stuff by Duran Duran, The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, The Teardrop Explodes, and many others. Ah, but that’s all for another essay. Let’s stay on topic with Post-Punk bands.

Update 4-26-2019: Some record companies block embedding YouTube videos of their product, so fuck them, no free promotion here, as if obscure bands didn’t need more promotion, especially free promotion. Idiots. So a couple of links I had here were changed, goodbye The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen, hello Bauhuas and Pink Turns Blue, two bands who certainly deserve recognition as Post-Punk legends while the other two are still controlled by retarded record companies who have no idea how these here “Internets” work some 25 years into its creation.

1. The Chameleons – Up the Down Escalator (1983)
A really hot Army girl stationed with me in ’84, who had just returned from a tour in Germany, used to play the album Script of the Bridge while we fucked. It was majestic music, anthemic and bold, somewhere between the change-the-world ambition of U2  and the darker direction taken by Joy Division. I borrowed her album and burned it to a cassette that I played the fuck out of for many years afterwards. When I hear this I still think of her lying naked on my barracks room floor, a shit-ton of lit candles surrounding her like an ancient religious fertility rite, and Script of the Bridge blaring out my speakers. She always left deep scratches on my back, that one. I hear this and it evokes a good fucking memory of a great girl. The song Second Skin from the same album is also brilliant, but I can only chose one on this list from each band.

2. The Sound – Skeletons (1981)
The best band of the 1980s that no one has ever heard. Fuck me as to why this happened. Front man Adrian Borland was the Jim Morrison of his generation, a brilliant songwriter, singer, and producer, and his sparse but hugely danceable arrangements became mainstays at “Goth” clubs all over Europe in the 80s. You wanted a dark, creepy mood along with great dance chops? Play The Sound. This song in particular is about as fucking great as any song from that dark, exciting, beautiful era. Like Joy Division, The Sound could take a dark mood and make it bright with an thrilling cacophony of pulsing bass lines and kick-ass beats. And, sadly, like Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, Borland took his own life at far too young an age.

3. Joy Division – Shadowplay (1979)
Dark, sparse, moody, cool, utterly brilliant. While Punk was quite often working-class stupidness, especially American Hardcore, what emerged after Punk died in the UK in 1978 was amazing. I loved The Clash, who got better when they transitioned from Punk to more diverse rock sounds on London Calling and beyond, but I think, in retrospect, Joy Division was the greatest band to emerge from the ashes of Punk, even if we only have two albums by the band to measure its greatness. Ian Curtis was Rimbaud to Joe Strummer’s Lord Byron, when you think about it. Joe was a hopeless romantic with many socio-political axes to grind, and we loved him because he gave a fuck so passionately, with anger and rebellion in his heart like any romantic. Ian, on the other hand, was a massively depressed nihilist who veered too close to the dark side and fell victim to his own worst tendencies, and his music reflected this abjectly morose excursion into madness and gloomy introspection. Plus, holy fuck, Peter Hook was an amazing bassist who could carry a song by his sheer athleticism on the instrument. When Ian died the remaining members created a whole new band, New Order, with a completely different sound; without Ian Curtis, there was no going back for Hookey, Bernie, and Stephen, but there was certainly a future for the three surviving lads. They did quite well as New Order, a great band with many outstanding records, but never at the magnitude of greatness like Joy Division’s work. That would have been impossible, as Ian Curtis was the brilliantly powerful magnetic force that drove Joy Division’s Rock & Roll engine.

4. Comsat Angels – Independence Day (1980)
Another amazing but sadly obscure band from an exciting era in musical experimentalism and “dare to be different” Post-Punk cool. Joy Division opened the door for all these young bands to express their darker thoughts and feelings, and while only The Cure and Bauhaus are well remembered today, there were other fine bands from that period who made great music. This is one of them. Like all great Post-Punk bands, the C-S Angels delved into the darker regions of consciousness, with pounding beats and a minimalist sound that was equally beautiful and dark, and of course one could dance to the band’s songs with great gusto. This is Post-Punk magic bottled into one great record.

5. Killing Joke – Wardance (1980)
These motherfuckers were crazy, I mean batshit crazy, but in a good way. Nihilists, sure, and doomsday believers of the nuttiest sort, but they put down on record all these insane thoughts and ideas with some powerful and crushing music, which was foot-stomping hard rock without the silly macho posing of the Heavy Metal boys in Metallica or Iron Maiden, who explored the same dark themes, with the only difference being that Killing Joke was essentially a Punk band and not Metal. But Killing Joke rocked like one, and Metallica paid homage by covering one of their songs, The Wait. Wardance is, to me, a scary, superbly powerful, driving anthem of unequaled greatness, and the louder you play it, the better it gets. Doomsday never had a better theme song. Fed Astaire cheerfully dancing on the casualties of nuclear Armageddon? Best cover art ever, if you ask me. Fuck yeah, this is Rock & Roll at its darkest, creepiest, angriest, nihilistic best. Put on your Doc Martens and stomp dance like a psycho as we blow ourselves to smithereens, motherfuckers. Armageddon is coming? Let’s dance.

6. PiL – Public Image (1979)
John Lydon left the Pistols and had a little Punk left in him with this kick-ass song and its Jah Wobble killer bass line and Keith Levene’s simple yet powerful guitar licks. Meanwhile Mr. Rotten gets to purge all his angst and anger with his usual sneeringly accusatory excellence, deriding his old band and all his detractors with a barrage of fuck you, spittle-spewing eloquence as only Johnny can muster. This is, simply put, a great fucking Punk tune. Johnny was a villainous cunt, sure, but we loved joining the bad guys when their message was right. He would cease being this cool in the years to follow, but from ’76-’80 Rotten was a goddamn sage. No one today is rebelling with such beautiful bile and cogently precise articulation. Bottom line: your rebellion had better fucking rock, mate. And this tune rocks. Anarchy indeed, in’nit?

7. Bauhaus – The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1981)
Stylish Brit boys who combined Punk sensibilities with their fascination with Creature Feature horror films. Goth was born here, for better or worse. Peter Murphy was Ziggy Stardust meets Dracula, and it was kind of cool in the brief moments Bauhaus made great music somewhere in the Bowie-and-Eno-Berlin-era vein, though I think they underperformed mostly, and yet their influence was immense. Having said that, this is a brilliant work of Post-Punk art, with its minimalist instrumentation combined with a driving beat, and Mr. Murphy’s haunting vocal delivery always hit the mark. Creepy cool. Gothic chic, if you will.

8. Pink Turns Blue – Your Master is Calling (1986)
“Dark Wave” bands like The Mission and Sisters of Mercy churned out tunes like this in droves, but this obscure German band may have created the best of the lot here, obviously influenced by Joy Division and The Mission, and yet, damn, it’s just a great song. I heard it in a club in Germany in 1988 and sprinted to the DJ to find out who it was, and to my surprise it was a German band, not an English one. All I can say is that at Club Gloria Palast in Saarbrücken, Germany in 1988, this song echoed like a haunting call to Dionysian debauchery, and the girls responded on the dance floor with some schmutziges tanzen—dirty dancingGoth style. I loved Goth girls back in the day because they were usually the most perverted ones with the most exciting sexual pathologies. Ergo I dug their music because it put them in the mood for further debauched naughtiness. Silly me. This band was relegated mostly to minor fame in Germany, but this song is legendary Post-Punk coolness.

9. Sad Lovers & Giants – Imagination (1981)
Another sadly obscure band that made vital and cool music, only to be buried beneath the deluge of more pop-influenced New Wave and Synth Pop that engulfed England in the early 80s. Sure, Gary Numan, Spandau Ballet, Japan, and the like were fun and cool, but so was this darker, more sinister branch of what came after Punk. Again, this is fantastic Post-Punk for dancing, especially when you’re feeling gloomy and doomy and life sucks ass, but you still want to flail around with your ass wiggling like a bloody fool. Bliss, mates.

10. The Damned – Life Goes On (1983)
These old original Punks reformed and kept making good music, and despite Captain Sensible’s strange run as a UK pop star in the early 80s, with his old Punk band he still had a few great tunes left in him, such as here, a song with a bass line and chord progression that’s been copied not once, but TWICE, first in Killing Joke’s song Eighties, and then Nirvana’s epic Come as You Are. The Captain was in form here, no doubt about it, writing a truly sad and brilliant song about how to live life after losing a loved one. Hard to imagine this was the same band that made New Rose, a nihilistically joyful Punk anthem if ever there was one, and yet, here they are, still fucking great, going all “Goth” in their later years. All hail the real Punks of old. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest songs from the 1980s, obscure, yes, but so sublime and touching, so goddamn good I wish everyone gave it one listen to find out why I champion it with such gusto. Of course I have weird and shitty taste in this strange mélange of borrowed and stolen styles, but that’s me, Mr. Pastiche, lover of goofy, often obscure shit that apparently only appealed to me.

My Prog Rock Fanaticism, 1973-75

It all started just after Christmas in 1973 when I stole $20 from by brother John’s wallet and claimed I found it while walking home from school. John, 15 at the time, had been working at the downtown Sheraton Hotel in Rock Island, IL, and was flush with moolah, so he didn’t even notice my pilfering his cash stash until a week afterwards, when he then realized my recent fortune had been at his expense, which he immediately reported to our Mom, who’d just gotten home from a business trip to London, Ontario, Canada.

I couldn’t return John’s 20 bucks as I’d blown it—along with another $10 of my own money—on a bunch 8-track tapes: Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, and The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge by Yes. John beat the crap out of me and kept the tapes, but I listened to them more than he did anyhow, so it was a beating worth the score. Our older brother Mike, home on leave from the Navy for Christmas in 1973, had purchased John and me a bitchin’ Panasonic stereo 8-track player, but John was always either working or hanging with his friends, while after my Dad’s death I became an increasingly socially isolated loner resorting to hiding out in my room, so I used it much more than he ever did. I eventually shoveled snow off a ton of sidewalks in my neighborhood to earn back the $20 I’d stolen from John, thus the matter was settled to his and Mom’s satisfaction once I paid him back. [NOTE: John informs me he bought those 8-tracks, although he agrees I probably pilfered money from him and spent it on other tapes, and since he tormented me a lot of time, it wasn’t unusual that he smacked me around for this, or for any number of reasons.]

To say I was obsessed with Progressive Rock was clearly evident by the fact I played the fuck out of those tapes every day. I was dazzled by the skilled musicianship and sonic complexity that these albums exemplified, mixing Rock & Roll with Classical and Jazz elements, and while the lyrics were often goofy and pretentious, the amazing music more than compensated for the shitty poetry. This was grandiose, ambitious, and majestic music far beyond the traditional Pop and Rock music of the day, much more European in its approach and less influenced by the African-American Blues that had kick-started Rock & Roll in the 1950s and held influential sway over most of the major American and British bands in the 1960s. Prog Rock attempted to be smarter, less sexualized, more lyrically diverse, and artier than traditional Rock.

Even a Prog Rock band’s album cover art was raised to a higher level like the musicianship of its bands. Yes had the utterly amazing, air-brushed, otherworldly fantasy landscape artwork of Roger Dean adorning all their covers from Fragile forward, and on ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery, the band hired Swiss futurist painter Hans Ruedi “H.R.” Giger—who was a half decade later the set designer for Ridley Scott’s seminal Sci-Fi outer space horror film Alien—to create an insane, surreal, futuristic, Sci-Fi-meets-horror design that was, in 1973, and maybe even today, the coolest cover art ever.

You could get stoned, listen to Yes or ELP, and totally lose yourself just gazing at their magnificent-looking album covers. Ah, the 70s; we didn’t have today’s preponderance of of computers, smart phones, online streaming content, video games, and innumerable cable TV channels to entertain us like kids today have available to them. We basically had books, FM radio, and records. TV was comprised of three channels, ABC, CBS, and NBC, and later PBS, that went off the air at midnight. So gazing at album cover art, or reading the album cover’s liner notes, was great fun while we listened to the music contained within that cover, or while reading whatever book caught our fancy at that moment, like A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, or Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, for instance. Or we’d have that day’s newspaper sprawled with us on our bedroom floor, perusing it for baseball box scores and player stats. We had numerous cheesy board games or decks of playing cards we could play with our friends, and that was about it for indoor activities.

True, not every tween kid in the 70s read books extensively, but I did. After my Dad died I became lost in obsessively intellectual pursuits and less involved in sports and other normal childhood activities. My Mom bought me a set of World Book Encyclopedias that I read so much I memorized a considerable amount of the data contained within their 22 volumes. What’s the capital city of Mozambique? The chief export of Belgium? What famous battle was fought on October 25, 1415? Who were the first five Roman Emperors? The first seven US Astronauts? To what Kingdom, Phylum, Order, Class, and Family do baboons belong? Dude, I studied and memorized all that shit until I was a walking human Wikipedia, and all while Brain Salad Surgery or Close to the Edge was blaring out of my Panasonic Stereo speakers. I was a weirdo, sure, but I after that I was basically able to ignore most of school from 7th through 12th grades because I’d absorbed so much knowledge during my tweens.

Yes: Virtuoso Musicianship and Silly, Foofie Lyricism
Yes’s lead singer, Jon Anderson, had a lovely, high-pitched wail that went well with Steve Howe’s brilliant guitar playing, Chris Squire’s complex bass lines, Bill Bruford’s dynamic drumming, and of course the magical keyboards by first Tony Kaye and then even better by Rick Wakeman, he of the flowing blond hippie-Viking hair and sparkling capes; if ever a Rock star looked like a Classical Music virtuoso, and was widely respected like one, it was Wakeman. Wakeman was one of the most talented and accomplished studio musicians of his era and appeared on nearly every great British artist’s record in the late 60s and early 70s, acts like David Bowie, Elton John, Cat Stevens, T Rex, Al Stewart, and even Black Sabbath. When he joined Yes he definitely raised the Classical music credibility of the band. Howe was an accomplished classical guitarist on a wide array of electric and acoustic guitars, mandolins, and other stringed instruments. Meanwhile Anderson, an interesting if not accomplished lead singer, fancied himself some sort of hippie shaman poet, mixing Eastern themes with his own goofy pothead vegan philosophy, trying mightily to affect Yes’s lyrics with profound, meaningful, and spiritual depth. It didn’t always work, but it was certainly less annoying than the thuggishly stupid misogyny of Crotch Rock or the highly overrated junkie chic of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.

Rock critics in 1973 lambasted Yes but loved Lou Reed, who basically strummed a guitar badly and mumbled silly nonsense with his droning, dull, monotone voice; when Bowie produced Reed’s most famous album, Transformer, the hardest part of the process was getting the doped-up motherfucker in the studio to record anything, and what made the album any good was due to the brilliance of Bowie and Mick Ronson—in fact mostly due to Ronson—not Reed’s, who was, really, a lazy, dope-addicted moron and extremely creepy. But he was cool in his black leather jacket and mirrored shades, the urban junkie prophet, which to Lester Bangs and all the other booger-eating, dipshit Rock critics of the day, gave Reed street cred as a “real” rocker. When Reed later broke from Bowie and produced his own albums, they were totally unlistenable piles of malodorous shit. Meanwhile, Yes actually tried to make beautiful music with great depth, feeling, and artistry, of course with unparalleled musicianship and audio recording craftsmanship, and for this they were dubbed uncool and mocked relentlessly by the critics.

Perhaps none of the guys in Yes were capable of playing in the New York Philharmonic, but they aspired to such a hoity-toity goal, which was more than you could say about Keith Richards or Eric Clapton, who just wanted to emulate the simple, sharecropper, barely-educated black bluesmen they worshipped. Let’s face it, while Muddy Waters was cool and his music was super cool, I’m also sure he couldn’t quote Shakespeare or discuss Kant’s philosophy. In fact, he couldn’t even conjugate verbs with any degree of expertise, which is understandable for a black American man raised in the pre-Civil Rights extreme poverty of the tragically racist South. Richards and Clapton were more like the Prog Rock musicians than the Delta bluesmen they worshipped, which meant they were all middle class Englishmen with somewhat posh university educations (if only briefly), but at least the Prog Rockers aspired to be erudite and eloquent—even if they came across as pretentious and grandiloquent—intellectuals while Richards and Clapton dumbed down their posh, educated side to be “cool” like their Blues heroes, even down to affecting their hard drug habits.

A typical Yes song had multiple time signature changes and long, highly intricate instrument solos by Howe and Wakeman, plus lovely vocal melodies by Anderson and Squire, moreover, as I stated, the words Anderson sang made little sense, yet sounded fucking beautiful, so it was easy to forgive their whimsically elegant and yet laughably vacuous meaning. It was a lovely, ethereal, otherworldly, mind-blowing sonic experience. Grandiose is a great word to describe its overall effect. Majestic. Inspiring. And, yes, even overwhelming. But it wasn’t mindlessly dumb like a lot of Rock.

I was about ten when I first heard Yes, so their lyrics sounded cool and fascinating to my childish self, but as an adult I chortle when I hear such silly piffle as, “My eyes convinced, eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love, It changed as almost strained amidst clear manna from above, I crucified my hate and held the word within my hand.” Like, what the fuck does that mean? I listened to those lines from Close to the Edge hundreds of times and could NEVER quite figure out what Anderson was babbling about. But the music sounded amazing, so who cared? I never could understand what Michael Stipe of R.E.M. was singing on their seminal debut album Murmur, yet it remains one of my favorites of all time. No one knew what the fuck James Brown was babbling on most of his killer grooves, but who cared, they rocked. The same here with Yes’s best work.

Here’s Yes’s epic, 19-minute symphonic piece Close to the Edge, which has four parts:

I – The Solid Time of Change
II – Total Mass Retain
III – I Get Up, I Get Down
IV – Seasons of Man

Yes’s grandiose orchestral sound must have been insanely difficult to record back in those long-ago days on analog tape, and legend has it drummer Bruford quit the band after Close to the Edge because the long, arduous, precise, multi-take and multi-overdubbing recording process nearly drove him mad. But with amplifier and speaker technology starting to get amazing by the early 70s on high-end hi-fidelity systems, it sounded magnificent on a good stereo or quadrophonic system. On good headphones it blows your mind. I cannot tell you how many times I smoked a fuck ton of pot and lost myself with this album, hundreds and hundreds of times just in the 1970s alone. Say what you want about Yes, but their music didn’t get subjected early to the law of diminishing returns over multiple listenings quite like your average Pop song, which started to get boring after hearing it on the radio 10-20 times over the course of a few weeks. It took over two years and hundreds of listenings for Close to the Edge to start boring me. By that time I’d move on to something else anyhow.

Yes – Close to the Edge: Parts I – IV – Close to the Edge (1972)

Emerson, Lake, & Palmer (ELP) – Bombastic Musical Athleticism 
ELP relied on keyboardist Keith Emerson’s almost insanely athletic skills on a vast array of organs, electric pianos and harpsichords, and synthesizers, and meanwhile drummer Carl Palmer and bassist and vocalist Greg Lake played and sung with equal abandon to create a sound of explosive, energetic, and maddeningly complex Rock songs that were enhanced with as much studio wizardry as early 70s analog recording technology could make possible. The band’s musical ambition was both vast and bold but also annoyingly pretentious at the same time, but if there’s one thing a listener can testify about playing an ELP record, it is that it will not be a boring experience.

Here’s ELP’s epic 30-minute song Karn Evil 9 from Brain Salad Surgery. On my 8-track of the album, each part, or “Impression” of the song as the band called them, was contained on 3 of the 4 2-track stereo runs of the tape, and as the player switched the tape head to each run, you’d hear a visible mechanical click as the tape head shifted back to the beginning and moved to the next 2-track run. Yes, it was weird using this ancient early electronic music content medium, but at least with an 8-track you could pop it into a player and it could, theoretically, keep playing to infinity or until the player lost power or the 8-track’s internal mechanisms broke down. With vinyl records you had to get off your ass and flip them over to play the others side, an annoying act when you’re stoned out of your mind and comfortably situated in bed, on a couch, or in your favorite recliner. If you were lucky enough to afford a reel-to-reel tape deck, and we were a few years later when my brother Mike brought one home from when he was stationed at Okinawa, you could play/record about four hours of music on its 7″ reel before you had to change or rewind the tape.

This is about as close and Rock & Roll ever got to be considered like Classical music, an electronic symphony of multi-dubbed instrument and vocal performances that the band painstakingly recorded in the studio. All three band members were accomplished musicians (as far as any Rock musician can truly be), so this song sounds astonishingly complex, way beyond what most Pop music had ever tried to accomplish, and to a kid like me in 1974 this was magical and highly addictive.

The lyrics tell a dystopian futuristic tale in the brilliant 3rd Impression (beginning at the 20:30 mark of the below video), my favorite part, with verses I memorized through obsessive listening sessions in the winter of ’73-’74, and which, once memorized, I wrote in my journal. Unlike Yes, ELP’s lyrics told stories that made sense, and were, relatively, quite well written pieces of poetry, fraught with strange and dark images of a bleak, freaky, nightmarish world overwhelmed by conquering fascist computers over a mankind that created the, all in a struggle for dominance in a world decimated by nuclear war and famine and environmental destruction, where a blade of grass is a rare thing to behold. Sure, it wasn’t Wordsworth or Byron, but it wasn’t stupid either like your typical mind-numbingly oafish Rock tune. Here are the 3rd Impression’s words:

Man alone, born of stone
Will stamp the dust of time
His hands strike the flame of his soul
Ties a rope to a tree and hangs the Universe
Until the winds of laughter blows cold

Fear that rattles in men’s ears
And rears its hideous head
Dread…Death…in the wind

Man of steel pray and kneel
With fever’s blazing torch
Thrust into the face of the night
Draws a blade of compassion
Kissed by countless Kings
Whose jewelled trumpet words blind his sight

Walls that no man thought would fall
The altars of the just
Crushed…Dust…in the wind

No man yields who flies in my ship
Let the bridge computer speak
Load your program. I am yourself

No computer stands in my way
Only blood can cancel my pain
Guardians of a nuclear dawn
Let the maps of war be drawn

Rejoice! Glory is ours!
Our young men have not died in vain
Their graves need no flowers
The tapes have recorded their names

I am all there is
Negative! Primitive! Limited! I let you live!
But I gave you life
What else could you do?
To do what was right
I’m perfect! Are you?

The hubris and arrogance the band exuded to record this insanely virtuoso performance, let alone perform it live, was a major accomplishment even if you think it’s sonically pretentious and its lyrics excessively grandiloquent. No matter what you think about it artistically or as a Rock & Roll fan, it’s a major achievement in 20th Century recorded music.

ELP – Karn Evil 9: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Impression – Brain Salad Surgery (1973)

Both bands went far beyond the simple confines and formulas of Pop music and definitely expanded the possibilities of where a Rock song could go, both for its betterment and yet  equally to its detriment, as their long solos and excessive and often silly bombast could get tedious after a while, no matter how brilliant the musicianship. Still, to my ten-year-old ears, this music seemed to be coming from outer space as far as I could tell, this weird, magical, and electronically orchestral sonic insanity that pushed recording technology and hi-fidelity stereo playback systems to their extreme limits.

In 1975 I switched my allegiance from Prog Rock to Led Zeppelin after my brother bought Physical Graffiti, and that was the end of my Prog Rock period. Heavy Metal became my obsession for the next few years until Blondie, Talking Heads, The Cars, and The Police stole my heart in 1979. And in the 80s I turned to Punk, Post-Punk, New Wave, Prince (a category all unto himself), Hip-Hop/Rap, and Alternative simply because I grew extremely bored and oversaturated by music from the 70s, or Classic Rock as it’s now dubbed. The Clash became what the early 70s critics wished Lou Reed had really been, but clearly wasn’t. And Joy Division was fucking brilliant. As was The (English) Beat, Prince, Elvis Costello, The Smiths, Pixies, Sonic Youth, et al.

Prog Rock took a beating by everyone after about 1977, some of it justified as the bands grew unbearably bloated and grotesque by their excessive pretension and self-adoration, but much of their early work was some of the best music ever recorded by Rock & Roll artists. The brilliance, artistry, and dazzling musicianship was breathtaking and highly original. Let’s not forget that Prog Rock had some of the highest highs of what music could become through deft playing, modern electronics, and sophisticated recording technology. The biggest bands sold millions of records in the early 70s, moreover they sold a buttload of tickets to their shows all over the world. So let’s give them some goddamn credit for being great and well loved by millions of fans.

Much of the ex post facto negative piling on by the hateful Prog Rock sneermeisters is just snotty and self-loving arrogant assholes trying to raise up their own “street” cred, like, look how cool I am, dude. Hipsters gush over Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, yet neither in their heyday sold many records; were they that good? Hardly. The Ramones were cool, but they couldn’t play more than three chords, and while I adored Joe Strummer, the man could barely play guitar. Say what you want about Keith Emerson, Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, Carl Palmer, or Chris Squire, but they were amazing musicians who raised the level of how great Rock & Roll could sound if played by skilled craftsmen like these gentlemen. Maybe they took it too far sometimes, but most of what they recorded was great shit. Inspiring. Epic. Memorable. Grand.

I was never too cool that I couldn’t admit I once fucking loved Progressive Rock with an almost unhealthy obsession. Prog Rock records, along with the books I read while listening to them, helped shape a good deal of my young intellect. And for that I am eternally grateful. Mostly I am unashamed to heartily admit this fact with every fiber of my being: Prog Rock was brilliant.

Our Satanic Majesty’s Naughty Bastards

Classic tracks that defined the greatness of The Rolling Stones.

Bitch – Sticky Fingers (1971)
It all begins with Keith’s simple but killer riff while Charlie and Bill dutifully follow Keith’s funky groove with their typically understated but cool rhythm section aplomb, and we’re off and running with one of the coolest, sexiest, absolutely badassed tunes the Stones ever recorded. Mick sounds cocky and shit-kicking mean, the pale English whiteboy acting black for over a decade who—almost—finally pulls it off on this killer track. Producer Jimmy Miller then tosses in the fucking superb brass section of sax man Bobby Keys and trumpeter Jim Price to literally embarrass all the “jazz rock” shit by bands like Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Ides of March. Like, come on, you silly cats, rock like this, motherfuckers. You can’t ‘cos you ain’t got Keith, bitches. You ain’t got Mick Taylor either. Game, set, and match. This is one of the greatest Rock & Roll songs you’ll ever hear, breathtakingly confident and cool, swaggeringly sexy like a motherfucker, and utterly fucking groovy, The Stones at the height of their power and glory as the self-proclaimed greatest Rock & Roll band in the world. A decade later while I was in college, we’d spin this record at parties to get the girls feeling dirty and decadent on the dance floor. Fuck yeah. We’d follow this with Prince’s Uptown to crank up the funky-sleazy factor and shit would get wild fast. It’s only Rock & Roll but I love it.

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) – Goats Head Soup (1973)
Billy Preston kicks off the first four bars of this killer track with a gorgeously funky clavinet intro that informs folks that the Stones means business and to put down whatever you’re doing, shut the fuck up, prick up your ears, and listen. Yeah, sure, the Mickster gets all socially conscious and shit, and lays down one of the best vocal performances of his long career, but what drives this song is the brilliant interplay between Preston’s clavinet and Keith’s wah-wah guitar strumming. Keith also laid down the funky bass line just to tart up the whole thing. The bands sounds weary and dragged down by dope and decadence and life and all the misery on the streets they witness from their limousines, and Mick reminds us all how fucked up everything seems, yet the song still gets your ass shaking to its downright dirty nasty groove. With the producer Jimmy Miller at the helm since Jumping Jack Flash, the Stones went on a sonic binge from 1968-1973 that defined their career as Rock & Roll grand masters. Miller always brought out what made the band so great, and when he was unceremoniously fired after this album, the band never rose back to this unbelievable level ever again, though Some Girls and Tattoo You had their moments; however, let’s be honest, after 1973 the Rolling Stones basically became a tribute band to their past greatness. They weren’t cool any more.

Tumbling Dice – Exile on Main Street (1972)
Legend has it that Mick was incensed that the record company used the wrong mix for the album version of this song, and that it took Jimmy Miller and the band over 150 takes to get anything decent on tape, but who gives a fuck, this is such a sleazy, dope-and-booze-soaked boogie-woogie classic that no one cared once it blasted through speakers in living rooms, cars, jukeboxes, clubs, and everywhere else in 1972. Drummer Charlies Watts was throughly incapable of playing the coda on this song right, so Jimmy Miller came from behind the console and pounded the fuck out of the skins to drive the groove with a dirty, nasty, sexy raunch that turned this into a classic. Of course, the greatest backup singers in Rock history, the divinely awesome Clydie King, Venetta Fields, and Sherlie Matthews, bring the sass and sexy attitude and ebullient black church chorus that keep fingers snapping and asses wiggling throughout this roadhouse romp. Yes, this song is the grand mess of a doped-up and ragged jet-set rock band in the throes of an out-of-control superstar lifestyle where no one told them no, but what a fucking glorious mess, eh? Bands like Aerosmith and Guns-n-Roses made a career of sounding like this even down to copying Keith’s majestically decadent but abjectly destructive lifestyle. But they never sounded this great. They didn’t have Keith. Or Mick Taylor. Or Jimmy Miller at the console.

When the Whip Comes Down – Some Girls (1978)
The Stones were well aware that Punk and Disco had usurped all the fire and glory from all the tired old 1960s rockers who were now mostly drug-addicted millionaires safe inside their limousines clutching massive record contracts despite the fact their music was rapidly descending into uncool piles of shit. Sure, the old guys sold out arenas and still got more than ample airplay on American FM radio, but none had any street cred in New York or London, where the Punks reigned supreme and garnered all the best press accolades. In 1977 nothing was more uncool than The Who, Stones, and Pink Floyd to the kids who mattered and now dug the Pistols, Clash, Ramones, and Talking Heads. Mick and Keith had always had their ears to the ground when stealing source material, beginning when they were young lads glomming the sound and style of the American bluesmen they worshipped. Mick lived in New York in 1977 and clearly saw that the nutty and frenetic kids at CBGB’s made him and his band look old and uncool. Or that Disco music had now become the cause célèbrere among his champagne-sipping jet-set celebrity clique. No one was digging The Rolling Sones in 1977. Not even the Stones. So Mick got off his ass and took charge of the band while Keith wallowed in a heroin haze, and the result was a “comeback” album, Some Girls, that ripped off both cool trends of the time, Punk and Disco, but with the typical Rolling Stones unapologetic swagger, and, lo and behold, for a brief moment the band was cool again. It didn’t last and they never made another fully end-to-end great album again, but Some Girls evoked some of the old magic. Yeah, the Stones were cool in 1978. Even some of the Punks grudgingly agreed on that. And the Disco fans loved Miss You like a motherfucker because it was superb dance music. So all was well again in the Big Lips-Wagging Tongue Land.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1968)
The Summer of Love and all it’s silly hippie-dippie fluff and psychedelic horseshit fell flat when the Stones tried it on Their Satanic Majesties Request. The band that invented the whiteboy-wannabe-black-bluesmen swagger with Satisfaction now tried to go all Pet Sounds and Sergeant Pepper’s, and the result was a gigantic pile of embarrassing shit. It could have been curtains for most Rock bands, but Mick and Keith smartly hired the hottest producer in London, the American Jimmy Miller, who’d recently helped Little Stevie Winwood and his band the Spencer Davis Group sound almost black and cool like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Sam & Dave, though not quite, let’s be honest. Miller’s genius was how with soul-rhythmic interplay and rock grooves he could turn a simple pop-rock song into a goddamn almost-Stax-sounding soul hit. Listen to Winwood’s Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m a Man, and, hot damn, I am sure Wilson Pickett smiled when he heard them. With the Stones, Miller already had a band that could riff and jam, but all they needed was strong push back to their roots and what they did best. He restored their confidence in making copycat black blues music, but with their uniquely cool English flair. Keith wasn’t Muddy fucking Waters, but he also wasn’t moldy cheese; he was a pretty cool cat in his own right. And no one would ever confuse Mick with Little Richard, but Mick had star power nonetheless and decent chops. Moreover, Mick & Keith, in spurts, had proven to be fantastic songwriters with amazing pop sense. Both just needed a musical mentor who could make them sound cool again. Jimmy Miller deftly remade The Rolling Stones into The Rolling Stones v.2, and it led to a glorious 6-year, 5-album run that proved overwhelmingly that they were, indeed, the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band. And it all started with this song. Hello, Rolling Stones v.2. Honor was restored. The bad boys were back from their failed LSD trip. Even James Brown admitted these whiteboys were cool.

Waiting on a Friend – Tattoo You (1981)

My generation came of age in the late 1970s early 80s, and to us the Stones were old dudes our older brothers and sisters dug. Our bands were The Clash, Prince, U2, Elvis Costello, Run-DMC, Metallica, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden, Beastie Boys, Def Leppard, Guns-n-Roses, R.E.M., Duran Duran, The Smiths, et al., young, new, fresh bands that pushed the limits of where Rock could go beyond the Classic Rock of the 70s that had grown stale and overplayed. And yet these old fucks still put out songs that made us smile, like this chill motherfucker; okay, yes, The Stones were all right, man. The 80s were not kind to these geezers (or The Who, Pink Floyd, and Bowie for that matter), and they ceased being cool forever and turned into a tribute band for their former selves, but in 1982 MTV played the fuck out of this song and we all loved it. I saw them live in Louisville in early 1982 and they were fucking great. Mick & Keith & Ronnie and boys were cool dudes, no doubt. Sadly, ego, dope, and excess forever stole their creative juices, but in this glorious moment they still shined like the superstars they were.

The Doobies Summer 1975

On May 15, 1975 my crazy Mom uprooted my family from our home in Rock Island, Illinois and moved us to Makakilo, Oahu, Hawaii. Her husband and our Dad, Mike Scheck, had died of cancer a year and half prior to our move, and Mom felt we needed a new life to get us all out of our extreme grief.

I was the Scheck child in the deepest throes of depression and grief. I was the youngest and hardest hit by Dad’s long illness and death; before he died I was a vivacious and athletic Tom Sawyer kind of kid who’d fallen into such abject despair that I grew fat and nearly comatose as I stumbled through life miserably. Worse was that I started wetting the bed nearly every night because my nightmares were so horrific. Much worse was I’d become almost obsessively suicidal, but luckily they were just thoughts upon which I’d not acted yet. I rejected god and religion, and most of my childhood friends were perplexed and frankly repulsed by what I’d become, fat and weird and depressive, though none would say anything because they at least understood my grief. Mostly they tried to help me, but I was in a deep, dark hole. I think there’s no doubt my Mom moved us to Hawaii to save me.

Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is catapulted by a tornado out of the dull, dark, black-and-white Kansas and steps into the technicolor brilliance of Oz? That’s how it felt when our United Airlines 747 jet landed in Honolulu and we first walked out of the airport and drove to our new home in my brother Mike’s Mercury convertible. It was, literally, paradise on Earth, at least to my depressed, pathetic, tubby, twelve-year-old self.

Hawaii is so incredibly beautiful when you first experience it through your senses, the sight of the lovely, lush, hyper-green mountain ranges on both sides, and in the middle the most beautiful flora and fauna you could ever imagine, all surrounded by the aqua-blue Pacific Ocean, moreover your sense of smell is literally assaulted by the gorgeous scents of the fresh plants and flowers and fruit trees and salty-sweet ocean breeze; the feeling you get is so magnificently exhilarating that you feel like you’ve died and gone to the very best version of heaven you could ever imagine. I spent my first hour in Hawaii hyperventilating with utter joy as we drove to our new home. This ain’t Kansas, Dorothy. It was 180 degrees different than the Rust Belt shithole we left behind in Rock Island, Illinois, and all the tragic memories that hung over it like a foul, tepid swamp mist.

I was saved already. That first hour in Hawaii awoke me from a dark nightmare that had lasted about 18 months and nearly destroyed me. It was like a shot of adrenalin to overdosed junkies near death that causes them to almost leap up from their deathbed. I was vividly awake with a gigantic gasp of air. Arise, you fat, depressed little bed-wetting Lazarus! You’re alive!

Our house was located on the southern foothills of the Waianae Mountain range on the western side of Oahu that overlooked Barber’s Point to the southwest and Honolulu and its ubiquitous and massive former volcano Diamond Head far (about 25 miles) to the east. Our house was about 1000 feet above the ocean and about two miles from it, and was situated on a steep hillside, with a gigantic back porch called a lanai that was on stilts about 15 feet above our back yard, with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean that still makes me smile some 45 years later when I think about it. There were days when we could see schools of whales in the ocean below with the telescope mounted on our rail. There was a huge mango tree in our back yard that yielded fresh, delicious fruit every few months and smelled divine. I could sit on our lanai for hours and never feel bored or sensory deprived.

My brother Mike was in the Navy and stationed at Barber’s Point Naval Air Station, and he and his Navy buddies were renting the house when my Mom visited him just after the previous Christmas. Now that they were all getting out of the Navy and leaving, the house was ours to live in, so Mom moved there and rented it for us. Mike left a few weeks after we arrived to make a motorcycle trek across America with his best Navy buddy Nick, which took the whole summer. He left behind all of his furniture and possessions, especially his massive stereo system he’d bought when he was stationed in Okinawa, with a powerful amp, turntable, reel-to-reel tape deck, and quadrophonic speaker array that created the most perfect audio experience possible. Dude, it was the shit, Moreover, he and his Navy buddies left behind all their albums, acts like T. Rex, The Allman Brothers Band, Doobie Brothers, Yes, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Alice Cooper, Little Feat, Rolling Stones, et al. It was a treasure trove of great music from that era.

They’d also, and probably not on purpose, hidden their pot stashes all over the house like a stoner’s Easter egg hunt. I literally found joints and buds hidden in every nook and cranny of the house. I was only 12 and had never smoked anything before except an occasional cigarette I stole from my Mom. All I needed was the chance to try it for the first time.

One day I stayed home alone while Mom and my sisters were out shopping and my brother John had left to play tennis. In this “Home Alone” experience I cranked the Doobie Brothers album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits on our stereo, opened all the windows in the house, and sat on our lanai to smoke my first joint with my neighbor and best friend, Danny Cunningham, who had a Hawaiian mother and a white, retired Army Master Sergeant father. Danny too had never tried pot, so this was going to be an amazing experience for us both.

So, wow, how cool was it that my first pot high was in Hawaii, with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean, coupled with the most amazing aromas a human being could ever smell, and with a really cool record playing on the stereo! The pot was pretty potent shit and in no time Danny and I were blazed out of our minds, dancing around the lanai like idiots, laughing like crazy and feeling weirdly, magnificently, and spiritually awesome. Bliss to the max. The rest of the day we sat at Danny’s house listening to Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album while we polished off two more joints.

I wish I could have bottled those intense feelings and drank them whenever I felt low the rest of my life. It was as if those last two years of nightmares, grief, anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies I felt pretty much all the time were lifted and exorcized like I had been possessed by a demon and I was now free. It would take me years to be whole again, but the momentum was finally shifting; after this day I not once had suicidal thoughts or wet the bed ever again, and I was moving in the right direction to the light away from the darkness.

No shit. It literally saved my life: Hawaii. The pot. The amazing music. Look at the healed me a year later, smiling, happy, sane (and probably high!). That which does not kill me makes me stronger. Goddamn right.

Thank you, Hawaii, marijuana, and The Doobie Brothers.

1999 in 1983

I arrived at Fort Sam Houston, located in near-northeast San Antonio, Texas, on a Friday evening on January 21, 1983 after being stuck in a crippling ice storm that grounded my flight from St. Louis for three days. I was on my way from Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky to my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Sam’s US Army Academy of Health Sciences, where I was to embark upon a rigorous, 4-month, 6-day-a week schedule of Chemistry, Microbiology, Hematology, Parasitology, Immunohematology, and all the other fun courses in the Basic Medical Laboratory school. My class was BML3-83.

So I arrive at my new unit’s HQ that Friday night to learn I’d arrived too late to enjoy the weekend pass that was given to the rest of my class that arrived that Wednesday when I too was supposed to arrive, but was delayed. I was confined to the barracks for the weekend because I wouldn’t get properly signed into the unit until that Monday, so I was basically a captive until then. The Sergeant on duty handed me two wool blankets, a pillow, and bedding, then escorted me to my new room, where he handed me my new meal card and gave me a quick but very demanding set of rules for what I could and couldn’t do. I couldn’t leave the barracks compound and especially not the post. I could go to the mess hall, gym, and Post Exchange (PX). That was it. Nice.

Luckily at the St. Louis airport I’d purchased Prince’s new album 1999 on cassette, so I loaded it into my Walkman and headed downstairs to my barracks day room, where there were a couple of TVs, a few pool tables, and some food machines. Sitting in one of the TV lounges was a tall, lithe, utterly gorgeous blonde girl wearing only PT clothes (Army logoed T-shirt and shorts) and flip-flops; since I’d just come from Basic and hadn’t seen a hot girl in ages, I naturally walked over to her and introduced myself. Boldly desperate would be the best description of me at that moment.

She too had arrived late as she was a Reservist from Maine who finished Basic in December and went home on leave for a few weeks before AIT, and, like me, her flight was delayed, although for other reasons than mine, so alas she too was confined to the barracks for the weekend. She had taken a year off from the University of Maine after her sophomore year to join the Army Reserves for the college money, went to Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and here she was at Fort Sam for BML. Late, like me.

She was tall, beautiful, fit, and smart. My kind of girl.

Right away, as if to ward me off, she declared she was engaged to the love of her life, which I duly noted but ignored, as I sensed immediately that this declaration of monogamous intent in her life was a weak attempt at repulsing her own urges, not mine, and of course within thirty minutes of meeting we were in her room making out like maniacs, our clothes coming off with frenetic naughtiness, with my cassette of Prince’s 1999 blasting on her little boombox. Music that, as we all learned while listening to it, was the sonic representation of sex. Perfect for this moment.

It was, I should say, a wildly erotic and fun weekend, the two of us all alone in that huge barracks for those three nights and two full days, taking breaks only to go to the mess hall for food and the PX for beer. We played the fuck out of 1999 as we screwed like a couple of rabid dogs. It should be noted we also played my recently-purchased cassettes of The Psych Furs, The Cure, The Time, Ray Parker, Jr. and Raydio, Depeche Mode, and Stray Cats, but mostly our fuckfest of a weekend was serenaded by Prince. Dance Music Sex Romance, all right.

That Monday, after we had our first formation with our classmates who were all back from a wild weekend pass that they bragged about to us relentlessly, she informed me she really loved her fiancé, although, yes, for sure, she had a great weekend and I was a great guy, and hot, but that was it, we wouldn’t be repeating our weekend’s carnal adventures. And we didn’t.

We remained close friends all through our training, and, oh, man did she make fun of and mock the endless line of insane and slutty girls I caroused with those four months as I experimented with my newly-found confidence with women for the first time in my life. When we parted at the San Antonio airport four months later, as our flights left about the same time, she heading back to Maine and her life there while I was off to Fort Benning for my first duty station as a Regular Army Medic, we kissed for about ten minutes. A great kiss, the best of my life if I may be honest. “I love you, you psychotic, wonderful asshole” she confessed quietly, with tears flowing. I just nodded in agreement, too chickenshit to be as brave as she was at that moment. But, hell yes, I fucking loved her. We realized with that amazing kiss that we probably should have been a couple, but such is life. Choices had been made. Paths were set to follow. Neither included each other.

She married that fiancé a year later as she told me in a letter while I was at Fort Benning, which was the last I ever heard from her. And that was that.

I stalked her on Facebook about 2009 and she looked as amazing as she did back in the day. She was still married to the same guy and had three kids and two grandkids. She’d led a beautiful life and was still gorgeous and cool. My life path had gone well too. We were just not meant to be a couple. But that kiss in 1983 at the San Antonio Airport, holy fuck, it spoke of an alternate universe where I am sure we’re still in love and playing 1999 every night as we frolic in bed like we did that incredible weekend.

Thank you, Prince, you super-cool, nasty, sexy motherfucker.

Una noche de fútbol en Valencia

Watching Valencia FC versus Chelsea FC, 11-27-2019, at Bar Canada in Valencia, Spain

My best mates in Valencia and I gathered at Bar Canada on Avingnuda Regne de Valencia in the Russafa neighborhood to watch Valencia CF play Chelsea FC in a Champions League fixture. On hand in the green shirt was my very good English mate Clive, who, like me, is a diehard Arsenal FC fan and avowed hater of all things Chelsea, and, as you can see, my brother John attended, sporting his Valencia CF shirt, and next to John in the black sweater and blue shirt is his best mate in Valencia, the Belgian ex-pat Lodewijk. The other two chaps were friends of friends who are now my friends after a fantastic night watching a brilliant match, which ended in a 2-2 draw. Many adult beverages were consumed and we all went home happy.

Watching Valencia FC versus Chelsea FC, 11-27-2019, at Bar Canada in Valencia, Spain

Missing was our good English mate Chris, originally from Newcastle—who is now, like John, Clive, and Lodewijk, a permanent resident of Valencia—and the owner of Bike Alao; Chris was off to Girona visiting his father, though we texted him constantly with photos and commentary. Also on hand was London native Jonathan (standing behind me in pic #2), another fanatical Arsenal hooligan like Clive and me, who works for Chris’s Bike Alao shop in Grau. It was one of the best futbol matches of the year and about as exciting as European soccer can be, full of dramatic goals and wildly exciting attacks by both clubs. I only have a few days left in Valencia before I head home, but I am so glad to have made so many epic memories on this current trip. I’ll miss my good friends here until my next trip on 2020. This time I stayed 46 days after staying 40 back in February and March, and hopefully next time I can stay much longer. It is slowly becoming my second home.