Paul Iorio's blog, The Daily Digression, covers pop culture and beyond...
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THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for May 27, 2016
Last night, a group of guys exited the Above and Beyond concert at the Greek Theater joyously, drunkenly singing "Blue Sky Action" all the way to Centennial Drive. They and the rest of the crowd really enjoyed the band's show -- and for good reason. It's tuneful, sometimes sonically magical stuff.
Their sound is like musical theater in a range between Jonathan Larson and Andrew Lloyd Webber, a refreshingly pre- (or perhaps post-) hip hop sensibility.
And "Blue Sky Action" was only one of the highlights, which also included oldie "Good for Me"; crowd-pleaser "Sun and Moon"; "Alone Tonight"; "Peace of Mind"; "On My Way to Heaven"; and "Satellite/Stealing Time."
The band basically played its next album, "Acoustic II," slated for release next week, minus "Alchemy" and plus around a half dozen other tracks.
Frankly, I'm unfamiliar with the EDM versions of these songs, which are hard to imagine that way since they work so naturally acoustic. Great to hear them full blast from my perch in the hills above the theater!
There were a couple derivative patches (on songs like "Miracle," it sounds like they want to break into the chorus of the Cranberries' "Linger"; "Hello" comes a bit too close to Pink Floyd), but for the most part it's their own brew, and quite intoxicating too.
Opening was Solomon Gray.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for April 26, 2016
JUST IN: The Huffington Post has just published my photos and review of last weekend's concerts by The 1975, Chris Stapleton, Wolf Alice, Anderson East and the Japanese House. Click here to check it out:
IN HUFFPOST: PAUL IORIO ON COACHELLA ACTS.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for April 24, 2016
Once Again, Coachella Comes to Berkeley!
The 1975, performing in Berkeley on April 22nd. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
As it did last year, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival came to Berkeley, California, over its final weekend.
Top acts performing on the festival's closing day also played in Berkeley for the opening nights of the 2016 Greek Theater season.
Chris Stapleton, The 1975 and Wolf Alice, appearing at the Greek on April 22 and 23 (and at Coachello on the 24th), dazzled the fanatical crowds, but many probably came away thinking about...Wolf Alice.
Wolf Alice, a London group fronted by 24-year old Ellie Rowsell, rocked like a band on its way to becoming as big as Florence and the Machine, judging from the wild response to their opening set for The 1975.
Rowsell has an enormously attractive vocal style and the greatest shriek this side of Florence Welch. Melodic and rocking, with a sound redolent of folk-grunge, The Decemberists, Death Cab, even the Sex Pistols, Black Sabbath and CCR. (And they seem to know full well what makes Sab swing; just check out "Moaning Lisa Smile.") The best set I've heard by an opening act since Lucius's show last year.
But the crowd that night was, of course, there for The 1975 -- and were they ever! High decibel screaming for the band soon turned into a crowd control problem in the front rows.
After the fourth song, an oldie called "So Far (It's Alright)," vocalist Matthew Healy spoke to the mob.
"Everybody takes three steps back right now," Healy told his fans. "Can you breathe? Don't kill yourselves."
Then he launched into "Change of Heart" from the band's latest album, the number one (on both sides of the pond) "I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It."
By mid-set, it was clear they probably should've called themselves The 1985, because their sound is sometimes somewhere between INXS and late Talking Heads, with echoes of the Average White Band and smooth jazz. (There was even an extended mellow sax interlude on "Me.")
Funkier live than on recordings, the band had lots of people dancing (even in the hills above the theater, where I heard most of the show and Stapleton's set).
Highlights included "Menswear," from their first album, and "Somebody Else," from the new one.
Opening the triple bill, during a light spring rain that brought out loudly chirping birds, was a promising British band called The Japanese House, fronted by Amber Bain, who is apparently still a teenager and has been collaborating with The 1975. Her aesthetic starting point seems to be Lorde, though she also appears to have been influenced by Tears for Fears. Worth checking out.
The next night, country superstar Stapleton headlined, drawing an overflow crowd that lined up for around a quarter mile, north and south of the venue, hours before he took the stage.
Playing a set that was mostly covers -- unusual for a performer known as a hit songwriter -- Stapleton closed with a soulful and poignant version of Prince's "Nothing Compares With You."
Unfortunately, some of the crowd had already exited the Greek early and missed it.
The probable reason for the exodus -- the biggest early exit of fans I've seen at the theater since The Lumineers' disappointing show in 2013 -- was that parts were downright tedious (e.g., for what was something like fifteen minutes, he introduced the names of bandmates in the form of a sketchy song). (This was the opposite of, say, Hozier's 2015 concert at which the crowd actually expanded as his show progressed.)
Don't get me wrong: the best of Stapleton's show -- his rendition of Waylon Jennings' "Ain't Living Long Like This," for example) -- was as masterful as anything in country music today.
And I enjoyed the unpredictability of his set, which included songs that he performed for the first time or rarely ("Hard Living," Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings") and lots of quirkiness.
But there were too many dead patches for a set that strained to reach the ninety minute mark.
Opening was country singer Anderson East, whose biggest hit, "Satisfy Me," bears a strong resemblance to Smokey Robinson's "My Girl" -- a point implicitly driven home when East joined Stapleton for a cover of that soul classic later in the night. Elsewhere, he sounded like the Richard Manuel part of The Band (minus the falsetto) -- and the crowd seemed to enjoy it.
Chris Stapleton t-shirts being sold at the Greek on April 23rd. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
The 1975, encoring in Berkeley last Friday night. [photo by Paul Iorio]
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for April 17, 2016
I want to thank all the editors who considered and had nice words about my unpublished interview with Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
The thing is, I'm really intent on having it published in its complete long-form -- because it's that good, a meaty twenty-page Q&A transcribed almost verbatim from my audiotape. The interview reads like two tennis pros hitting balls to each other. (Obviously, I do NOT put myself at Ferlinghetti's level, but, by the time of this interview, I had developed a high level of expertise on "Howl," the main subject of my interview, and it reads like it.)
So, considering I want it published in its entirety, I'm self-publishing it now. Here it is, for the first time, my fully transcribed one-on-one Q&A with Ferlinghetti.
Paul Iorio's Exclusive Interview with Ferlinghetti -- Finally Published.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights bookstore, earlier this year. [photo credit by Paul Iorio]
Sixty years ago next month, Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" was first published.
It initially appeared in a mimeographed edition on May 16, 1956, and had a print run of a few dozen copies.
The subsequent edition, published months later by City Lights Books -- titled "Howl and Other Poems" -- would go on to sell around a million copies, but only after it had become the subject of a landmark obscenity trial the following year.
Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, founder of City Lights, published "Howl" in November 1956 and was soon arrested by the local police department for selling it, charged (along with bookstore clerk Shig Murao) with selling obscene material. (He was later acquitted of all charges. Today, of course, the poem is considered a landmark of twentieth century literature.)
On August 29, 2000, Ferlinghetti and I talked, in an exclusive one-on-one interview, about many aspects of "Howl."
At the time of the interview, I had just finished a year of immersion in the subject, beginning in late 1999 when I did a massive amount of research on Ginsberg for a story that ran in The Washington Post on May 7, 2000. I then did further copious research for a piece I was writing on the first public reading (at San Francisco's Six Gallery) of the poem; that story appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 28, 2000.
So, by the time I got around to interviewing Ferlinghetti, I had become something of an expert on the poem and had come up with around two hundred questions I wanted to ask him!
My Q&A with Ferlinghetti began at around 5:30 p.m. on the 29th at his office at City Lights. We then continued talking as we walked around North Beach together to a restaurant called Tosca. There, a little after 6 p.m., the two of us took a back table and talked for an hour.
I recorded the entire conversation on an audiotape that I still have.
The whole interview had never been fully transcribed until March 2016 and has never been posted or published anywhere until now.
Only 225 words of the nearly 5,000-word conversation have ever been published anywhere. (I used those 225 words in that Chronicle story, which has since become required reading at ivy league and other universities worldwide. Years later, my story was quoted and cited in Jonah Raskin's book "American Scream.")
This transcript here has been only lightly edited and runs for nearly 4,000 words, drilling deeper into aspects of "Howl" than most journalists and scholars have gone before.
Nobody else was present at the 90-minute interview (though Ferlinghetti's City Lights associate Nancy Peters came in to get him in the final fifteen minutes). (In those last minutes, she sat with us and briefly spoke with Ferlinghetti a couple times.)
Here's the transcript. To paraphrase William Carlos Williams: Hold on to your hats and gowns, we're going deep into Ginsberg's hell.
Paul Iorio: I'd like to start at the beginning with when you met Allen Ginsberg. I heard that he strolled into City Lights and...
Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Someone's imagination added the stroll! [laughs]
Iorio: He lived in the neighborhood, didn't he? He lived at 1010 Montgomery.
Ferlinghetti: That was later. Let me begin at the beginning. I was in France on the G.I. Bill getting a doctorate at the Sorbonne and I didn't know any American poets. I was living with a French family ...and while the Beats were at Columbia University and in Times Square and hitchhiking around the country, I was doing that in France. I wasn't a member of the original Beat group...
Iorio: You were slightly older than them.
Ferlinghetti: Yeah, except [William] Burroughs was much older. Yeah, I was seven years older than [Allen] Ginsberg, five or six years older than [Jack] Kerouac. So, I came to San Francisco and started City Lights with Peter D. Martin in June 1953 and naturally I started meeting poets because poets naturally congregate at bookstores. And it was just a couple years after we got started that Ginsberg came through, I think he'd been in Mexico, came up from Mexico and hadn't met Peter Orlovsky by then, who became his steady boyfriend. He'd been in San Francisco a few weeks or months before he came around to City Lights. Must have been in '55.
Iorio: Right, some would say August 1955. I went through [Ginsberg's] journals and he stayed with the Cassadys in San Jose in June ’54 and then Carolyn Cassady kicked him out in August '54, at which point he moved across from City Lights. Did you see him in the neighborhood at any point --
Ferlinghetti: No, I never saw him till he came into the bookstore. At that point, I was living on Potrero Hill, I was married and leading a bourgeois life and didn't stay down in North Beach at night much. So I didn't meet him until he came in the store with his manuscript.
Iorio:...Ginsberg showed you poems early on at that first meeting. Do you remember what poems he showed you?
Ferlinghetti: He showed me "Howl" -- that was the first thing I saw. Where did you get the information that he showed me earlier poems?
Iorio: The Michael Schumacher book “Dharma Lion.”
Ferlinghetti: Schumacher never interviewed me. There is so much erroneous information in the biographies. Ann Charters was the first Kerouac biographer. She knew him personally and it was much more direct and first generation, whereas the later biographers were a generation or two removed.
Iorio:....A couple books say that you turned down early poems by Ginsberg.
Ferlinghetti: Much later, he showed me earlier poems that were published after that under the title “Green Automobile.”
Iorio: The fourth part of “Howl,” am I right? "Green Automobile" was originally the fourth part of “Howl”?
Ferlinghetti: No. Where did you get that?
Iorio: That’s in a book by --
Ferlinghetti: Totally wrong!...It’s not at all in the same style. I don’t see how it could possibly be seen as the fourth part.
Iorio: When he showed you that first draft of "Howl," what did you think?
Ferlinghetti: It wasn't a first draft. He considered it ready to publish. It was a final draft. And he had already produced a mimeographed edition typed by Kenneth Rexroth's wife, Marthe Rexworth, who was working at San Francisco State at the time, and she typed this mimeographed version. Which is very rare. Rare bookdealers get more for it than they do for our first editions of "Howl" in the City Lights series. Twenty copies or something like that [Note: Ferlinghetti appears to be factually wrong here about the date of the mimeographed edition; that first "Howl," according to multiple sources, is dated May 16, 1956.] By the time he came to City Lights and gave me the manuscript to publish, it was what he considered final form.
Iorio: Schumacher says that you rejected that version.
Iorio: What he wrote in "Dharma Lion" is that City Lights didn't have the money to do it. But I guess not.
Ferlinghetti: [nods no] When I read it, I immediately saw that it was totally new, there was nothing like that up to that point. At that time, poetry was very academic and the king of the poetry mountain was Karl Shapiro, who was editor of Poetry, Chicago. He turned into an academic with many years at U.C. Davis after that. So, it was a real academic poetry scene before "Howl" [which] sort of kicked the sides out of everything, the way when the rock 'n' roll revolution started in the Sixties, cool jazz just disappeared. So when he gave me the manuscript, I first said, "We don't have any money right now, but soon." Then the "Howl" reading at Six Gallery was like two nights later.
Iorio: So, that would place it in October....Now, the Six Gallery thing, Ginsberg was organizing it. Did he approach you? He probably wanted you to read, didn't he? "Pictures of the Gone World" had already come out --
Ferlinghetti: Yeah, but I wasn't one of his gang. I wasn't one of his group at all. He sort of considered me like a square bookshop owner. In Kerouac's book "Big Sur," which he wrote in my cabin at Big Sur much later when he old and alcoholic, he has a character in there that's supposed to be me. I think the character is called Mendez Monsanto [note: it's actually Lawrence Monsanto], which is my maternal grandfather's [last] name. But in that book, Kerouac's picture of me is as a genial businessman. I wasn't in the inner circle at all. I wasn't invited to read at the "Howl" reading because I wasn't really known as a poet. I think "Pictures of the Gone World" might not even have been published. [Note: "Pictures of the Gone World" had been released a couple months earlier.]
Iorio: Of course, you went on to outsell --
Ferlinghetti: I mean, I was totally straight, I was married living this bourgeois life and I wasn't one of them. They were this wild gang of dope-smoking, etcetera.
Iorio: The story has it that [on] October 13, the reading at 6 Gallery, you invited everyone to get in the car, everyone was going over to this Friday night reading, you and your wife invited Kerouac and Ginsberg to drive over in your car.
Ferlinghetti: Yeah, we had an old Aston Martin, my first car I ever owned, I bought second-hand. Little tiny car and there were three or four in the back. Maybe there were three: Kerouac, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky.
Iorio: I'm trying to picture it. So, they came in from Berkeley.
Iorio: They must've taken the BART [train] --
Ferlinghetti: There was no BART then.
Iorio: But they were living on Milvia [Street in Berkeley] --
Ferlinghetti: There was only one level on the Bay Bridge. There were trains on the other level on the Bay Bridge. They probably came over on the train.
Iorio: And then they met you at City Lights.
Ferlinghetti: Yes. I think so. I was living in Potrero Hill. Maybe I picked them up somewhere...
Iorio: According to Ginsberg's journals, he was living on Milvia Street at this point.
Ferlinghetti: Oh, that was in Berkeley, in the cottage.
Iorio: Yeah, cottage. He wrote that poem, you know, in "Reality Sandwiches." Kerouac was staying with him just for the weekend.
Ferlinghetti: Kerouac never really lived here except for short periods when he worked on the Southern Pacific as a brakeman. And he lived in a hotel down by the old Southern Pacific railroad station, which is near the ballpark [AT&T Park]. Near Third and Townsend.
Iorio: So, you're driving, you're in the Aston -- and what's it like driving over there? Was Ginsberg drunk already? Or Kerouac? Was there joking?
Ferlinghetti: Allen was never drunk. He was too intent on his career to be drunk that night. He was such a master publicist, besides being a genius poet and a genius performer. Really a master of performance. You ever hear his records?
Iorio: Yeah, I've heard him perform a few times.
Ferlinghetti: He could really turn the audience on. But anyway, did you read in one of the biographies, did they reproduce the postcard announcement for the Six Gallery reading?
Iorio: Yeah. "Six poets at Six Gallery, angels coming to --"
Ferlinghetti: Yeah. The last two words were so perfectly Ginsberg: "charming event." [laughs]
Iorio: [laughs] That's him!
Ferlinghetti: I don't know how many postcards he sent out, probably not more than ten or twenty. Who knows how many. Wish I had one.
Iorio: That would be great for the art [for my story]....I want to focus. So, you're driving and you arrive at Six Gallery. It's Cow Hollow, it's a forty minute walk [from City Lights], it's a ways away. When you get there, what's it like? Are there people outside?
Ferlinghetti: No, it wasn't that big a crowd.
Iorio: Seventy-five people or so?
Ferlinghetti: Oh, there weren't that many. I would say, forty at the most. Thirty five.
Ferlinghetti: Oh, yeah. It was a small garage.
Iorio: In a space like what?
Ferlinghetti: There was a small storefront and a garage, really, and it had a cement floor. I think the building's pretty modern now. Have you ever been around there?
Iorio: Oh, yeah. I've been there, but I've not been in.
Ferlinghetti: It's a low ceiling. And it's no bigger than the back part here [points to a small area at Tosca].
Iorio: Was there a stage?
Ferlinghetti: A little tiny stage. Could've been an improvised stage. Must have been raised up somewhat.
Iorio: So, it wasn't just a podium there.
Ferlinghetti: It was supposed to have been an art gallery...but a totally alternative art gallery....
Iorio: So, where did you sit at the reading?
Ferlinghetti: My wife and I sat somewhere in the audience. I wasn't involved in it, so I was a specatator. They didn't consider me one of them.
Iorio:...Now, Kerouac's role at the Gallery has been written about...Everyone says he was sitting on the platform, or sitting near the platform.
Ferlinghetti: Yeah, probably near the platform. The platform wasn't so high that he couldn't sit on the edge of it. He was sitting on the edge of it. He had a jug of red wine, I remember that.
Iorio: Was he taking collection for...
Ferlinghetti: He was passing the jug of red wine around. And I didn't smell any dope there, I don't think anyone was smoking dope....It was the end of the bohemian period, nobody used the word Beat then. When I arrived in San Francisco, I was the last of the bohemian generation. When I came from Paris, I was still wearing my beret. That's what bohemians wore. And when the word "Beat" started being used -- Herb Caen coined it, "Beatnik," as a real square way to put down poets, that's the way I looked at it. And that's the way the other poets looked at it. It was like a put-down. It was at the time of Sputnik, so it was slightly derogatory, you see. I didn't know a single Beat poet that didn't hate the term and didn't hate being called a Beat. Allen sort of developed it, being the master showman and publicist that he was. There wouldn't have been any Beat generation recognized as such if it hadn't been for Allen. He created it out of whole cloth, really. Without Allen, it would've been just separate great writers in the landscape. It wouldn't have been known as the Beat generation. He was the one who put it all together.
Iorio: Something like an agent, almost.
Ferlinghetti: He was fantastic. He never missed an opportunity. When he got famous and started crawling around the world, every city he went to, he had this enormous address book, he had the phone numbers and names of every important press person in that city. And he called them all up.
Iorio: He had a list he sold "Howl" to, eventually, that included Charlie Chaplin and Marlon Brando.
Ferlinghetti: Oh, sure.
Iorio: So, did you ever hear back from those guys?
Ferlinghetti: I didn't, but I'm sure he did. He heard from a lot of them.
[A City Lights associate shows up and he tells her the interview will continue for another fifteen minutes. Ferlinghetti orders a Bass Ale beer.]
Iorio: Wondering about Jack Kerouac sitting on that platform and shouting encouragement. What kinds of things was he doing?
Ferlinghetti: All I remember him shouting was "Go!"
[A waiter brings him a beer.]
Iorio: And the audience joined in with Kerouac?
Ferlinghetti: Yeah. Like I said, it wasn't 75 people, it was more like 30, 35. Kenneth Rexroth introduced it. Rexroth was really the pater familias for the poets, the elder statesman.
Iorio: [Rexroth] was wearing a bow-tie that night?
Ferlinghetti: Not a bow-tie. He was wearing a string tie. In fact, I have it. I don't know how I inherited it, but I have this tie that he wore. It's about three quarters of an inch wide.
Iorio: And was Ginsberg nervous when he got up there, was he playful --
Ferlinghetti: He wasn't nervous. But his voice was much higher than it became later. With Buddhist breathing exercises, he developed a much deeper voice. He was very serious, but he wasn't nervous.
Iorio: Was there one point during "Howl" when the audience really caught on. Was there one line or one passage --
Ferlinghetti: I don't remember there being a passage. I mean, nobody had ever heard anything like that before! That's the thing about a great poem: when you hear it for the first time, you say, I never saw the world like that before.
Iorio: Was that what you felt [when you read "Howl"]?
Ferlinghetti: Yeah, yeah. I never saw reality like this before. That's what you say when you pick up Whitman for the first time, for instance. I didn't know him well enough to go out with him afterwards, so my wife and I drove him to Potrero Hill. In those days there was no fax, no computers, of course. There were telegrams. So, I sent Allen a Western Union telegram that night saying, "I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do we get the manuscript?" Do you know where the first sentence came from?
Iorio: Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Ferlinghetti: You're right. When he first read "Leaves of Grass," he sent a note to Whitman. And Allen never mentioned that. The only way that got known was I started telling reporters about it years later. Another thing Allen never told anybody -- and I never really studied the annotated "Howl" -- Allen says he has no memory of it, but I distinctly remember there was a fifth part of "Howl" that I persuaded him to leave out. A whole page, single spaced typewritten page. And it didn't go with the rest of the poem. And I convinced him to leave it out. It just disappeared. I don't think it's in the annotated version or anywhere.
Iorio: I've never seen it. There were parts of "Howl" that were left out -- you know that -- then there were poems that were added to the mix [in the book "Howl and Other Poems"] --
Ferlinghetti: Not poems that were added to "Howl" itself. To the volume.
Iorio: To the volume, exactly. He didn't like "Greyhound Station" ["In the Baggage Room At Greyhound"]. He told you --
Ferlinghetti: I persuaded him to leave it in....He was going to leave it out....Another thing: I persuaded him to change the title. The whole title was "Howl for Carl Solomon" in the same-size letters. And I persuaded him to put "for Carl Solomon" on another page as a dedication. It made a big difference. It immediately made it universal instead of just addressed to one person.
[Ferlinghetti's associate at City Lights returns to the table and listens to our conversation.]
Iorio: You also showed it to the ACLU beforehand[before any legal troubles] --
Iorio: How did you know to do that? You had a lot of prescience there.
Ferlinghtti: My father was an auctioneer, he was a small time mafioso. He knew what he was doing. I must have inherited some of his genes.
Iorio: Do you think the trial would have gone differently had Ginsberg been in town?
Ferlinghtti: He wasn't arrested, he wasn't indicted.
Iorio: Certainly not. It was only you and Shig Murao for while. But if Ginsberg had been around, he might've been called as a witness and there might have been a lot more media hoopla.
Ferlinghetti: No, there wouldn't. Because he wasn't known. He was totally unknown -- until the book was busted. I don't know where he was. He was either on a freighter in Alaska or in Tangier.
Iorio: Morocco. He wrote to you from Morocco saying, "This looks like trouble. This is worse than the Customs action," and he was really alarmed. Do you remember any --
Ferlinghetti: Yeah, I remember that letter. I think it's in Ann Charters' "Selected Letters."
Iorio: It is, yes! Did you think [the legal action] was a boon, a help? Because you were getting publicity. Or were you alarmed?
Ferlinghetti: Oh, no, I was very happy with the whole thing. Shig was, too....
[Ferlinghetti has a brief interchange with his associate, deleted here.]
Iorio: The asterisks [redacting obscenities in "Howl"] were provisional, weren't they?
Ferlinghetti: [Ginsberg] put those asterisks in himself.
Iorio: Have you ever thought of restoring it?
Ferlinghetti: No, [Ginsberg] wanted it that way.
Iorio: How come?
Ferlinghetti: Out of respect for his mother, I guess. You read "Cottage" ["A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley"]and you realize how attached he was to his mother.
Iorio: He was. [Ginsberg's mother] Naomi was lobotomized about a month or two before "Howl" was written. Do you think that was one of the causes [of the writing of the poem]? "Howl" was such an eruption --
[A waiter appears and offers more beer.]
Ferlinghetti: [Looking at his beer, which is almost gone] There's a hole in this glass. I swallowed that in a hurry![To the waiter] Just a drop. That's enough, thanks.
Iorio:....How do you think Ginsberg actually got into the mental state to be able to do that. Do you think that it was may his mom's [lobotomy] and the friction that that caused? Or being in San Francisco among a lot of people who --
Ferlinghetti: It's more New York. I mean, it's a New York poem, really, [though] he wrote it out here....Yeah, I think his mother had a lot to do with it, because they lobotomized her....
[Ferlinghetti and his associate exchange a few words, deleted here.]
Iorio: Ginsberg was such a practical man, too. He was an agent, almost, for the Beat --
Ferlinghetti: He was very practical.
Iorio: How do you reconcile those two halves of Ginsberg? On the one hand, he was institutionalized. On the other hand, he was almost a businessman. He had an advertising job when he was in town.
Ferlinghetti: No, market research. Quote market research. It amounted to going around ringing doorbells....
Iorio: Ultimately, are you surprised by the respectability of "Howl" today? I mean, it's taught in all the universities that rejected Ginsberg [initially].
Ferlinghetti: No, I think it happened because the Beat message became the only rebellion around. It's still the same today. In fact, during the "Howl" trial, when Life magazine published a big story on the trial, the headline was, "The only rebellion around...," which is still the case. And with the dot commies and the computer consciousness...that has taken over the whole country and the world, the Beat message is needed more than ever. So [the Beats have] become this group that was saying all these things fifty, forty years ago. So, academics recognize this is an important work...
Iorio: Wasn't the [Richard] Eberhart piece in The New York Times -- remember that? "West Coast Rhythms" -- wasn't that the breakthrough thing for all these poets, wasn't that the demarcation line?
Ferlinghetti: You're reading the biographies, which are all written by east coast biographers. It was a big breakthrough in New York to get this in the Times. But on the west coast, no. The Times wasn't that much read out here! They didn't have a west coast edition of the Times at the time. That was an east coast phenomenon. Out here, the poetry scene was wild anyway, it was an anarchist scene. Kenneth Rexroth was the leading anarchist/philosopher and he had a program on KPFA radio....He didn't review just poetry; he reviewed every field: geology, astronomy, philosophy, foreign translations, you name it. I got a complete political education listening to Rexroth....KPFA was a huge intellectual influence at that time in the Bay Area....This was all separate from the New York scene and the New York carpetbaggers. Ginsberg, Kerouac, Corso: they were all New York carpetbaggers -- like myself.
Iorio: And Peter Martin, too, was a New Yorker.
Ferlinghetti: He was the son of Carlo Tresca, the famous Italian anarchist, who was murdered on the streets of New York, probably by the mafia. So we had this anarchist bias at the bookstore right from the beginning.
Iorio: What do you think of the theory that the San Francisco poetry renaissance was a New York poetry renaissance that happened to happen in San Francisco?
Ferlinghetti: You know, there wasn't the San Francisco renaissance here; it started in Berkeley in the late Forties. Poets like William Hewison and Robert Duncan and Thomas Parkinson, who became a professor at Berkeley....So, this was going full blast before the New York carpetbaggers arrive.
[Ferlinghetti's associate says something to him, brings up poet Gary Snyder.]
Iorio: Gary Snyder...had the bad luck of having to read after "Howl" [at Six Gallery]. Do you recall --
Ferlinghetti: I don't even remember he was there!
Iorio: OK, because it's one of those little known things.
Ferlinghetti: I guess Phillip Whelan read also?
Iorio: Whelan, Lamantia --
Ferlinghetti's associate: McClure.
Iorio: McClure was second, Ginsberg was after an intermission. Do you remember an intermission during that Six Gallery thing?
Ferlinghetti: [Nods his head no, sips his beer. His associate says a few words to him.]
Iorio:....Which ones did you get along with? I guess Rexroth. Did you ever go over to Ginsberg's place on Milvia Street?
Ferlinghetti: No, I didn't know him that well.
Iorio: And Kerouac: what kind of guy was he?
Ferlinghetti: Allen was always trying to say he was gay, but I thought that was really absurd. He was one of the biggest women-chasers I ever met. He was built like a French Canuck lumberjack.
Iorio: He played football in Lowell.
Ferlinghetti: Yeah. I didn't get to know him very well. I ended up knowing Allen much better.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for March 23, 2016
I have boundless respect for Marty Baron and the investigative team that broke the Church sex abuse scandal, but "Spotlight," for all its merits, was not the best picture of last year. (I just now finally saw it.) In fact, it's hard to see why this story had to be told in a visual medium to begin with; much of the movie involves people taking notes on a notepad.
"All the President's Men" it ain't. (And, by the way, my own feature film screenplay "The Buzz," which involved murderous corruption in the music business, seems to have been the model for two specific scenes. But who's counting?)
A few loose notes. Nobody recorded interviews at the Globe? In decades of journalism, I have never quoted a source who didn't talk to me on tape. That way, you get the quote right, with all nuance intact, and there are no disputes about who said what.
Why wouldn't you record an interview? If the conversation is on the record, then the source agrees that what he or she says can be published. So, why would you use pen and paper to get a LESS accurate version of what the source said? Handwritten notes, even by someone who knows speed stenography, are always less accurate than a recording. Why would a source say, "yes, you can quote what I say, but via a less accurate method"?
Furthermore, regarding the copying of the unsealed documents snafu: I was surprised the reporter didn't have a camera on him to snap pictures of the documents. An easy way around an inaccessible xerox machine.
Anyway, those are points of newsroom craft.
The bigger issue is...it's amazing how the subject matter here dramatically shrinks in scale when 9/11 happens in the middle of the movie. (Now THAT -- the fight against jihad -- is a life and death story!)
Also, moving priests from parish to parish would not necessarily signal to me that they committed a crime. In fact, it may mean, in some cases, that the priest was too honest and was about to blow the whistle and so was shifted to another place. (I know that, in other jobs, journalism included, people shift from job to job because they don't have a lot of money and can't sustain themselves in one location. (This may be news to some with independent wealth!) That said, it turned out the circumstantial suspicions panned out in many such cases.)
What else do I have to say about "Spotlight"? There are a lot of great stories that get swept under the rug because someone is a national hero whose glory days are still in progress. Look at the Bill Cosby story. While Cosby was a huge cash cow for NBC, nobody would listen to the accusers. When his commercial worth diminished with age, they finally paid attention.
I wrote a story on Richard Pryor in which his biological son told me on tape that his father molested him as a kid. Circumstantial evidence backed it up, too. I presented my proof and some prissy editor at HarperCollins threw a hissy fit about such offensive material. (Uh, it was Pryor's behavior that was offensive -- I was just documenting it.)
What about the media downplaying of wildly rampant Muslim pedophilia? In many parts of Islam, the marrying of girls as young as eight or nine -- as nauseating as that sounds -- is common practice. And do you think some immigrants from Muslim-majority countries leave behind those deeply ingrained attitudes when they come to America?
Oops, I'm sorry. You can't investigate offenders who are part of a protected or p.c. demographic.
Like transexuals. Bruce Jenner kills someone on the highway, but he's a tranny -- actually, merely a transvestite -- so...no mention made of his crime.
So, there are a lot of people who shouldn't act so pure, because they're covering stuff up even as I write this!
All told...the best movie of last year was "The Big Short."
P.S. -- Further, the part of the journalism profession that employs an unethical fraud like David Wiegand at the AME level at the San Francisco Chronicle has no high hand about anything. Talk about circling the wagons for a bad actor. Anyone who wants solid proof of that can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (But, of course, they won't. They don't want to see the proof. They're the Church.)
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for March 22, 2016
photo by Paul Iorio
My deepest condolences to the people of Belgium.
As we all know, there is a disease called jihadism, more deadly than Ebola, that is an epidemic in European neighborhoods like Mollenbeek and Finsbury Park. And we need to treat it like an epidemic/pandemic and aggressively eradicate it. (When Ebola ravaged places like Liberia, we screened people coming in from Liberia, didn't we?)
As I've said before, let a thousand flowers bloom -- but don't let the weeds that strangle the flowers grow in the garden. And right now, the magnificent gardens of Europe are choked with weeds that need to be pulled and tossed.
And Hillary Clinton, leader of the surgical team that put a bullet in the forehead of Osama bin Laden, must make anti-jihadism HER issue. Don't cede that ground to Donald Trump or he will surely become president if there is a terror attack before the November election.
The fight against the religious right has always been a cornerstone of progressivism. The Ku Klux Klan and ISIS are one and the same. Different burqa this time.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for March 17, 2016
Finally saw Todd Haynes' "Carol" last night. Loved it, for the most part. Superb first act. Sensitively crafted, poignant, touching, running out of adjectives. At times, it feels like you're a guest at someone's house and overhearing their way-too-candid personal arguments. And Rooney Mara recalls a young Audrey Hepburn. Cate Blanchett, as always, is masterful.
It does lose sharp focus after an hour, though, becoming a sort of "Thelma and Louise," then a sort of "Kramer vs. Kramer," then a sort of "Sunset Blvd.," while still being original and extremely watchable. I'm not the first to say that Haynes should've been nominated for an Oscar for his direction.
Beautiful final shot. But the realistic side of me says, how is Therese going to mesh with Carol's rarefied milieu? Then again, Mara's character is in the process of blossoming as a photographer, so that does make it believable.
I just saw "Montage of Heck" (finally!). An excellent, not perfect, docu that puts a fresh light on seemingly familiar turf.
Sources are limited to those who, as Brett Morgen puts it, would've have attended Kurt Cobain's funeral if he had been only a janitor. (Refreshingly, this is not a talking head style docu in which, say, the drummer of the Melvins and the bassist of Mudhoney talk about their tenuous links to Cobain.)
The footage of Cobain as a kid is priceless and telling. It doesn't take 30 seconds of watching to see he was a manic-depressive from his first days on Earth. His lows were too low, his highs were too high (though we all sure enjoyed the fruits of the latter).
As completist as it seems, the doc is surprisingly incomplete on a couple key counts.
It doesn't capture the thrilling upset victory of "Nevermind," which industry pros expected would sell around 30,000 copies at best, until it didn't -- until, to everyone's astonishment, record warehouses were unable to meet the demand of fans trying to buy a copy.
Pre-"Nevermind," the band's juice and industry standing were so low that they were actually ejected (for food fighting) from the record release party for "Nevermind" at Rebar in Seattle. None of that is covered here.
Family footage is at the core of "Montage." Cobain clearly inherited the genes of his mother -- he should've been Kurt O'Connor -- who looks a lot like an older Courtney Love. Love herself is shown in all her youthful glory and it's clear, seeing them together, that they were truly in love. It left me wondering why they didn't collaborate together musically.
All told, wish it had gone on for another hour.
THE DAILY DIGRESION
for February 25, 2016
Campaign 2016: The View from Berkeley, the Epicenter of Progressivism
A life-size cut-out of Bernie Sanders on the campus of the University of California at Bernie (I mean, Berkeley!), February 23, 2016. [photo by Paul Iorio]
In Berkeley, California, ground zero for liberalism in America, it's raining Bernie.
Bernie t-shirts, Bernie bumper stickers, Bernie buttons, a life-size cut-out of Bernie on the campus of the University of California, Bernie placards in windows and signs on strollers.
Based on the visible evidence, if the California primary were being held today, Bernie Sanders would win by a landslide in this area.
Conversely, one would need a microscope to find evidence of support for Hillary Clinton in the Bay Area. Based on what I've seen -- and I've been walking the streets of Berkeley looking for political signs for months (and in every election cycle since '02) -- there are actually more leftover Clinton/Gore bumper stickers (one) than Hillary ones (zero).
It wasn't always this way. Back in July, at the dawn of Clinton's campaign, there were plenty of "I'm Ready for Hillary" stickers, mostly in the more affluent neighborhoods. But those have completely disappeared. (One Hillary sticker was even covered over with another one reading "Don't Believe Everything You Think.")
And Bernie campaign workers are relatively ubiquitous, too.
At Sproul Plaza on the Cal campus on February 23rd, a steady stream of students signed up to support Sanders and take some campaign swag. And when a breeze blew down that cardboard replica of Sanders, students rushed in to rescue him and set him back on his feet!
In front of a Berkeley grocery store on February 17th, a Sanders supporter was handing out flyers in advance of the Nevada caucus.
"We're driving to Reno on Friday for Bernie," he says. "Wanna join us?"
I say thanks but I have other plans. When I offer to buy a bumper sticker and button, the guy says, "I accept no money" and hands me free ones. "Make a contribution to Bernie online instead," he says. [For the record, I am not a contributor to or a public supporter of any presidential candidate.]
To be sure, in the past, there was an equal or greater level of enthusiasm in town for previous liberal presidential candidates like Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Barack Obama.
But Dean stickers in 2004 were on mostly high-end cars, while Kucinich's over-the-top support that same year was seen mostly on signs displayed in homes. (One west Berkeley house had every window covered with Kucinich signs.)
Sanders' support in this college town, by contrast, is amongst both townies and gownies. (Obama's support here in '08 was in a category all its own in terms of unanimity and extravagance.)
Here's a gallery of photographs I shot over the past several months of the campaign landscape in Berkeley (and in the Bay Area), along with a few pics of the town during previous presidential election years.
University of California students gather on Sproul Plaza for Sanders on Feb. 23rd. [photo by Paul Iorio]
Right around the corner from the house where Allen Ginsberg wrote part of "Howl," a woman pushes a Bernie stroller. [photo by Paul Iorio]
The support shown for Clinton at her appearance at Book Passage in San Francisco last June 26th seems to have completely disappeared in the Bay Area. [photo by Paul Iorio]
The Hillary bumper stickers that cropped up in Berkeley last summer have vanished, replaced in some cases this way. [photo by Paul Iorio]
The only Clinton bumper sticker I saw on my January and February walks through Berkeley was this leftover Clinton/Gore sticker from '92. [photo by Paul Iorio]
As might be expected, there's more enthusiasm here for non-candidate Elizabeth Warren than for Hillary. [photo by Paul Iorio]
Three consecutive campaigns on one car! [photo by Paul Iorio]
Support for Obama in the '08 cycle was wildly over-the-top. Here's an "Obama Store" set up outside his appearance in Oakland on February 17, 2007. [photo by Paul Iorio]
This west Berkeley resident went all-out for Dennis Kucinich in '04! [photo by Paul Iorio]
The ghosts of Democrats past still haunt around town. [photo by Paul Iorio]
A Ralph Nader '00 sticker covered by a Howard Dean '04 one. [photo by Paul Iorio]
A photograph I took of various pictures that I shot of campaign signs over the years. [photo by Paul Iorio]
In Berkeley -- The City of Bumper Stickers -- some are show-stoppers! [photo by Paul Iorio]
For the most part, Berkeley is a pasture of plenty for Bernie. [photo by Paul Iorio]
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for February 24, 2016
I missed the email notification last week that The Huffington Post had published my story about an apparent threat made by president Nixon to a Supreme Court Justice in 1971.
I'm quite happy that The Post has published it! Here's my story, which breaks new ground about a Nixon tape that had previously escaped almost everyone's attention:
Iorio in The Huffington Post on a Previously Unreported Nixon Threat.
Also, here's another story of mine that The Huffington Post recently published -- about the day I confronted O.J. Simpson about his wife's murder.
Iorio in The Huffington Post: The Day I Confronted O.J. Simpson.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for February 16, 2016
Did Nixon Threaten a Supreme Court Justice?
Nixon called the head of the F.B.I. in '71 to say he wanted to literally outlive Justice Byron White. (Nixon apparently did not say, :"Could you make that happen?") [unknown photographer]
The White House tapes show it vividly. President Nixon was hopping mad about a Supreme Court decision that said the government had no authority to stop The New York Times and other newspapers from publishing the so-called Pentagon papers.
The 6-to-3 decision came down on June 30, 1971. Within hours, on July 1st, Nixon was venting on the phone to the head of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover.
"I wanted to tell you that I was so damned mad when that Supreme Court had to come down -- I didn't like that decision. That was unbelievable, wasn't it?"
Hoover, acting like a yes-man and sounding like an echo chamber, agreed.
"Unbelievable," said Hoover.
"Those clowns we've got on there, I tell ya, I hope I outlive the bastards," said Nixon.
"I hope you do, too," said Hoover.
"I mean, politically, too," Nixon said, underlining the fact that he meant "outlive the bastards" quite literally. "Because we've got to change our Court."
"There's no question about that whatsoever," said Hoover. "If I had thought there was a possibility of a five to four..."
Hoover doesn't finish his sentence, though Nixon gives him the space to do so and doesn't interrupt him. The sense of what Hoover is saying is, "If I had thought there was a possibility of a five to four, I would have done something about it."
"I thought we ought to get [Justice Byron] White," says Nixon. The President's meaning is apparently, "We should have won White's vote on this case," but the ambiguity of "get White" is attention-getting in this context.
And Hoover agrees, saying White is "in with the whole Kennedy crowd." White, of course, was the only Justice on the Burger Court appointed by Nixon's one-time arch-nemesis, President John F. Kennedy.
Hearing the tape today, it's hard to deny that Nixon's remarks to Hoover sound a bit like a threat of extra-legal action against Byron White.
After all, the president is speaking to the head of the F.B.I., choosing his words carefully, one assumes, so as to not send the wrong signal. Nixon could have expressed his anger with many different phrases: "I've had it up to here," "I'm sick of those guys," "The Court is killing me," etc.
But instead he chose to say and repeat the unusual phrase, "I hope I outlive the bastards." Then he underlines his meaning by saying that he's not stating that merely figuratively. And singles out White. (And one also has to wonder why Nixon was even talking to Hoover about this particular subject. Was the head of the Bureau the appropriate person for Nixon to have talked to about this?)
And Hoover, ever the lacky, agrees with Nixon and even leaves a phrase dangling unsettlingly.
Was Nixon subtly signaling to Hoover he should "get White," perhaps by, say, using the apparatus of the FBI to arrange some sort of dirty trick or even something darker? (Nixon, of course, was known to have used both dirty tricks and government agencies against people he perceived to be his enemies.)
The July 1, 1971, Nixon-Hoover tape is included with other raw audio footage in the "extras" section of the documentary "The Most Dangerous Man in America," though the film makers do not raise any of the questions that I'm raising in this piece. The audio is also included on this website: http://nixontapes.org/jeh.html
For the record, Justice White ended up dying in 2002, outliving Nixon by eight years. He was replaced by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who still serves on the Court.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for February 13, 2016
I just saw "The Revenant," "The Martian" and "The Hateful Eight" -- and here's what I think about each.
"The Revenant" has a killer first half-hour that's full of suspense and tension, but the rest is not nearly as great.
It resembles "Dances with Wolves" and then becomes a sort of "Castaway," a Leonardo DiCaprio solo vehicle for a time, with echoes of "Deliverance" and "Platoon." But it ends up being only slightly better than "Dances with Wolves."
And I'm not sure whether they should give the Oscar to DiCaprio or to the make-up artist. The acting (consisting mostly of "yowww" and "oucchh" and crawling through the snow) is eclipsed by very imaginative make-up.
It's also predictable. With 90-minutes of the movie still to come, one already knows that it will climax with a shoot-out between Leo's character and Fitzgerald (with the winner being -- you guessed it!).
And in the final chase sequence, the indestructible Leo runs through snowy mountains with nary a limp after having been twice mauled by a bear, dropped from a mountain top, frozen and assaulted by some very, very bad folks.
And the philosophizing here is vapid, pretentious and trite. There are repeated Chauncey Gardiner-esque allusions to the heft of trees in a storm -- as if that's a metaphor for something profound. And then there's vague references to easternish mumbo jumbo about the river of life flowing ever on and on and on....
I'm a Matt Damon and Ridley Scott fan, but "The Martian" is a surprisingly awful film. I mean, what was all the hype and hoopla about last fall when it was released?
It's sort of an attempted "Apollo 13," but with none of that film's greatness.
Unlike "Apollo 13," the characters here have none of the authority or gravity of seasoned NASA pros; they're more like kids in a dorm or spunky interns at a tech firm. The characters are almost slugs for a plot. And the tone is fatally inconsistent.
This is, by the way, the second major film of 2015 in which the protagonist is left for dead but ultimately triumphs (the other one being "The Revenant").
To be fair, the sequence featuring David Bowie's "Starman" is quite magical. But that's pretty much it.
Quentin Tarantino may be the best American film director to have emerged in the last quarter century, but his latest, "The Hateful Eight," is not very satisfying at all.
It's almost like leftover "Django Unchained," with the same cinematography, some of the same actors and the familiar jokes. The fresh progressive use of the n-word in "Django," for example, is merely tedious here. And it's tiresome to see some whitey mouth racist insults and then, in the end, get his or her bloody comeuppance. We heard that joke in "Django."
Also, way too talky. And this could've been shot in 35 mm or Digital 4K and the outcome would've been the same (because the content is not there).
It would've been better if the movie had started at the two-hour mark, when the bloodbath begins.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for February 3, 2016
Machine Guns and Hoopla at Super Bowl City in San Francisco
A police officer with a sub-machine gun at Super Bowl City in San Francisco, February, 2, 2016. [photo by Paul Iorio[
I have never seen so many sub-machine guns and assault rifles as I saw yesterday at Super Bowl City in San Francisco.
I like the fact that the San Francisco Police Department, the best in the nation, is responding pre-emptively to a possible terrorist attack.
But aren't such attacks usually carried out by lone wolves, or militants in groups of two or three?
It seems to me that the logic of law enforcement-use of sub-machine guns would be to use them to take out a large number of assailants. As in a military action.
Cops wouldn't need an assault rifle to handle a lone-wolf shooter even if that shooter had a machine gun himself.
Like at the Bataclan. If French cops had been stationed inside the club with assault rifles, what would've been their strategy? To machine gun the assailants (thereby hitting scores of innocent bystanders)? Wouldn't the wiser option be to just use a sharpshooter to take out the individual terrorists without also hitting civilians?
Perhaps the strategy is more like...if there is going to be some sort of shoot-out with terrorists, the cops don't want to be outgunned.
Whatever the case, Super Bowl City in San Francisco is quite a sight to behold. The whole city is decked out in Super Bowl garb and I've never seen anything like it in the fifteen years I've lived in the Bay Area.
A cop guarding the perimeter of Super Bowl City. [photo by Paul Iorio]
San Francisco is all decked out for the Bowl. [photo by Paul Iorio]
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for January 18, 2016
Iorio on "Irrational Man"
[photo of Joaquin Phoenix in "Irrational Man" by Paul Iorio.]
One thing I learned when I talked with Woody Allen is that he has an enormous appetite for clever plot construction. In conversation, I could see his mind working through various alternate story ideas and narrative dead-ends that ultimately led to the resolution he chose. Surprising for a director of character-driven movies, though in his later years he's become more Hitchcock than Bergman.
In his latest film, "Irrational Man," which I just saw, Allen has devised a plot twist at the end that's likely catching everyone by surprise. It's one of the best things about this otherwise quite imperfect picture.
Don't get me wrong: if "Irrational Man: were the work of a first-time director, it would likely have been nominated for a best picture Oscar this year.
But it's a Woody Allen picture and he's directed so many great features that this one is only his 31st best film, ranking somewhere in the vicinity of "Celebrity" and "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," which is to say, better than around a dozen of 'em. He really does compete against his own high standard each time out.
The flick starts off as "Crime and Punishment," turns into "Strangers on a Train" (albeit with unilateral, not mutual, action) and then takes on a light tone reminiscent of "Manhattan Murder Mystery."
The problem with turning this into a remake of the Dostoyevsky novel is that Raskolnikov had a direct personal motivation (which he dressed up in philosophical clothes) to commit his crime. Joaquin Phoenix's character, a philosophy prof, has no link to the grudge to which he's inserting himself.
A more clever plot twist would've been to have had Phoenix's character eavesdrop inaccurately and kill the wrong judge. (Allen, in his comedic mode, might've had fun with such a premise.)
(And even if the plot was practical from the Phoenix character's POV, wouldn't the woman's husband, not the judge, be the proper target?)
Further, Phoenix's character more closely resembles a creative writing or modern lit prof, a two-fisted drinker-brawler type common to such faculty departments, as opposed to a philosophy prof. (They tend to be loftier, more cerebral.) Actually, he's even more like a philosophy student returning to finish undergrad work after 20 wayward years.
(By the way, there are great philosophical bits that are identical to the stuff (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, etc.) that I studied as a phil major back in the day.)
One of the film's glaring flaws is its incessant use of the track "In Crowd" throughout the pic. The Ramsey Lewis Trio version of the song is used five times in the film and is heard for a full sixteen minutes throughout. (I timed it with my stopwatch!)
At times, the song's upbeat sound creates a jarringly inappropriate tone (as when Phoenix diabolically mixes poison to the tune of "In Crowd"). And the track has audience applause at the beginning, so we hear that each time, too. (It's as if someone didn't listen very carefully to the movie's sound.)
All told, B-level Allen, which this is, is still better than most major movies released in any given year.
I loved this marvelous sequence in which Emma Stone and Phoenix appear visually distorted in a funhouse mirror. Very resourceful special-effect! [photo by Paul Iorio]
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for January 7, 2016
UPDATE: January 8, 2016: The Huffington Post has just published my piece on "Donald Trumps' Greatest Hits." Click here to read it!
NOW IN THE HUFFINGTON POST: Iorio's "Trump's Greatest Hits"!
The Donald Trump Hit Parade!
Trump's biggest hits of the '16 campaign, now on one disc!
[Photo and concept by Paul Iorio. (Image of trumpet-playing Trump by unknown photographer.)]
Not since the Beatles had multiple songs simultaneously in the top five singles' charts have we seen what we're seeing now with the hot hand of hit-maker Donald Trump.
With one shock-jock single after another, Trump has dominated the top forty since his debut in July with "Build a Wall" (b/w the openly racist "Mexican Rapist").
Since then the Trump releases have been relentless, eclipsing all other recordings by the rest of the Republican field.
To counter the Trumpernaut, a desperate Jeb Bush even tried an unconvincing punk foray of his own with "I'd Kill (Baby Hitler)" -- to no avail.
And then there was mild competition from Ben Carson's easy-listening ballad, "I Left my Sponge in a San Francisco Patient," which didn't go over so well.
Ditto with Carly Fiorina's "You're So to Blame (you probably think this song is about you)" and Chris Christie's Springsteenesque "We Shall Overeat."
Only Barack Obama's late-breaking hit, "It's my Party (and I'll cry if I want to)," competed, briefly, with Trump's outrageous hit parade.
And the Trump songbook is packed with recent tracks everyone now knows by heart, including: "Carly's Face," "Thousands Cheered," "Blood from Her Wherever" and the much-censored "Schlonged!"
And his club mix of "Low NRG" even provoked a feckless answer-record from Bush, "You Jerk," which of course went nowhere.
What's next from everyone's favorite "short-fingered vulgarian," the man who gave us "John McCain (No War Hero)" and "Ban All Muslims"?
There are rumors of even riskier new bigotry like the double-sided single "Muslims are Mexicans (Without the Humidity)" and "Ted Cruz (Canadian Muslim).
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for December 27, 2015
"Chi-raq" is being hailed as a return to form by Spike Lee, and it is the best of his late-period work, though his recent "Red Hook Summer" and "Oldboy" are, in many ways, as good as this one, which does, to its credit, have an irresistible high-concept, borrowed from Aristophanes's "Lysistrata," about women going on a sex strike until men put down their guns.
"No peace, no pussy," the women chant. An extreme measure for an extreme problem! As this movie shows, some nabes in Chicago are more violent than parts of Baghdad.
And Lee doesn't prettify it. In one scene, we see someone on her hands and knees scrubbing the blood from a street. In another, a parent freaks out when she discovers her kid was hit by a stray bullet.
And Lee puts the emphasis exactly where it should be: on violence committed by street criminals. (After all, the real-life high-profile instances of police overreaction in recent years are a side-effect of the massive crime probelm out there.)
To be sure, there's an uneasy mix of tones now and then, but then again that was also true with Aristophanes' play.
And the actors make it work. Nick Cannon turns in an impressively understated performance; Samuel L. Jackson is dapper and amusing as a sort of recurrent one-man Greek chorus; and John Cusack shows a soulful side to his acting we've never seen before.
Unlike Steve McQueen and Ava DuVernay, Lee has always drawn white characters who are full bodied, multi-dimensional and worthy of split sympathy from the audience. (Audiences both cheer and jeer, say, Danny Aiello's character in "Do the Right Thing" -- and that's the mark of first class art. As opposed to DuVernay's depiction of any white in "Selma," which is propaganda.)
What should Oscar do with this film? Nominate it for best picture and best director. (Isn't it way past time for Lee to win the best director prize -- even if this isn't his best?)
(Btw, the clueless Wikipedia description of it as a "musical" mis-labels it. It's not a musical. It has music in it, but "Red Hook Summer" and "Do the Right Thing" contain a lot more music than this one.)
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for December 24, 2015
Hollywood's first movie star, Lillian Gish (as Elsie Stoneman), breaking hearts as she shoots an air-gun with her fingers in order to say goodbye to her brothers, departing for war. [photo by Paul Iorio]
D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" turned 100 years old earlier this year, which means it dramatized President Lincoln's assassination from the same distance that we now see J.F.K.'s murder. Pretty recent event.
Also, pretty biased filmmaking, as Griffith's dad was a big wig in the Confederate army (and the apple didn't fall far from the hangin' tree).
Griffith was simultaneously a century ahead of his time and a century behind it, a reactionary racist and an artistic innovator. Genius-level craftsman in the service of propaganda
He invented the action movie, the war movie, the western, the epic film, the Kubrickian soundtrack. In short, he invented modern cinema -- but with the most backward content imaginable.
Like Ava DuVernay's "Selma" and Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will," it's propaganda, more worthy of a Clio than an Oscar.
Truth be told, I don't know anybody who takes "Birth of a Nation" off the shelf for pleasure nowadays. Today, it's watched mainly for academic reasons by film obsessives like me. (And that, of course, is not true of all silents. "Modern Times," for example, has me roaring every time I watch it, as if it were a new Woody Allen flick.)
The most touching parts of the film are actually generated by Lillian Gish (when she makes that air-gun gesture with her finger to wish her brothers off to war, for instance, and then breaks down crying).
And actress Miriam Cooper scans so modern. What a babe (in a 21st century way!). Too bad she didn't make more flicks. (She evidently backed into Hollywood acting after art school in Greenwich Village.)
Of course, she and everyone else in the movie are now dead. In fact, any newborn baby that might have appeared in the film is now either 101-years-old or dead. Gish outlived almost everyone, dying mere months before her 100th birthday and living until the dawn of the Internet age. Griffith himself died in the months before Thomas Dewey "defeated" President Truman! (At least that's how things looked in early '48.)
It's important to note that Griffith's film didn't emerge in isolation; he was backed by a wealthy Hollywood machine that okayed the script (a re-write of an even more racist work, a novel called "The Clansman," by Thomas Dixon, Jr.) and was given that rarest Hollywood plum -- a green light, which could've been given to any number of other talents, progressive talents, who might've also blossomed into geniuses. (The truth is that Griffith's brilliance wasn't fully evident until after he finished making "The Birth of a Nation.") And its L.A. premiere in '15 was a spectacle that included a parade by faux Ku Klux Klansmen. So...it took a village -- a backward, progressive village -- to create the picture.
However evil its content, however inventive its art, it still stands as the likely highest-grossing film of all-time, adjusting for inflation (though box office records from that period are unreliable).
All told, I hate to like this film, but I do.
Even in 1915, actress Miriam Cooper (playing Margaret Cameron) scanned modern. [photo by Paul Iorio]
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for December 11, 2015
I just saw “Black Mass,” "Spectre," "Straight Outta Compton" and the first season of "Better Call Saul." Here's what I think:
Johnny Depp is just fantastic in it. He’s, by far, the best thing about it, turning in a performance very likely to earn him a best actor Oscar nomination. The critical clichés about him disappearing into the role are spot on; he does. He seems genuinely lethal even when sipping a glass of water.
But the rest of the film is fatally flawed and surprisingly unsuspenseful, a notch below “The Departed” and “Donnie Brasco,” a slight cut above “The Grifters” and “The Krays.”
It’s as if the director started with the idea of doing a “Goodfellas” but then decided to turn it into an “American Hustle” (before tacking on a bit of “Spotlight”).
The movie has an uncertain focus, intercutting between Whitey Bulger’s POV and the perspective of federal investigators – all of it centered myopically on Whitey’s mob-informant period. It feels almost like an unfinished picture in many ways, when one thinks of the wealth of great material about Bulger's case that could've been dramatized.
An ideal telling of the Whitey Bulger story, and this is not even close to an ideal telling, would have started with his childhood, showing how and why he and his politician brother grew to become so radically dissimilar to one another, with all the divided loyalties such a relationship would suggest. It would have then dramatized his mafia heyday and his subsequent period hiding in Santa Monica.
That would’ve been an epic, multi-generational tale worthy of a best picture Oscar. But this is not that film.
Worth seeing, but wait for the DVD release.
The new Sam Mendes, "Spectre," which is also the new James Bond, aims to please with sleek, taut, suspenseful action. Daniel Craig looks so much like Steve McQueen at times, Christoph Waltz is one of the most freshly diabolical Bond villains in decades.
And the locations, always co-stars in this series, are killer. Roma hasn't looked this spectacular since Fellini; and parts were actually shot in -- get this -- Syria.
And the supercars, as might be expected, are super, going from zero to sixty in three seconds and shooting ammo from the tailpipe.
Craig's Bond, true to form, emerges from collapsing buildings and brawls with his suit crisply pressed and spotless. (Don't know how he does that.) I expect no less.
And what an opening sequence. A fight in a helicopter causes the copter to careen wildly out of control over a huge crowd of partiers in Mexico.
Fun stuff. Here's hoping they return to Syria for the next movie so Bond can take on ISIS.
"STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON"
I finally saw "Straight Outta Compton" last night and liked a lot of it. The story of N.W.A.'s ascent is exciting, but the real star of this thing is its depiction of Suge Knight and his conflicts with Dre and Eazy. A more chillingly realistic depiction of Knight, the music industry's latter-day Morris Levy, would be hard to imagine. Frankly, that should've been the story.
Not a perfect film -- a half hour could've been edited out eazily, the white characters are all one-dimensional, the narrative gets sidetracked too often. But well worth seeing.
"BETTER CALL SAUL"
As I work my way through the year's best films, I'm thinking that the best "movie" I've seen so far in 2015 is the "Five-O" episode of "Better Call Saul."
What an inspiring, innovative piece of film making. Completely original, though it does remind me of my own script "Hard Noon," which also deliberately presents unexplained action that is confusing (by design) until subsequent facts make it all too clear.
In 2015, television still leads the way.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for December 5, 2015
As someone who has visited Muslim-majority countries -- have you? -- my advice to those who live there: keep hydrated!! Dehydration in hot countries can lead to all sorts of delusional thoughts. The probable source of most religion.
(Btw, notice that some of the most p.c. people on Islam are those who have never ever traveled there. I have
Charlotte was a churchplace shooting by a disgruntled worshipper. (At least partly.)
That's how some Democrats are sounding to my ear.
And how come Obama sang "Amazing Grace" in Charlotte but not after the far worse hate crime in San Bernardino? Instead it was all hedging and hawing and maybe it was a workplace blah blah blah.
What the hell is wrong with the Dems that they can't champion the issue of eliminating the KKK (of Islam)? I thought you guys were AGAINST the KKK (of Islam)?
And ISIS is more evil and right-wing than the KKK was on its worst day!
I thought the Democratic party was opposed to the religious right. It's YOUR issue, not the Republicans'. Show some goddamn passion when you take on the KKK (of Islam).
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for November 30, 2015
An Awful Night on the Upper West Side, Thirty-five Years Ago
Detail of Robert Freeman's 1963 photo of John Lennon for the cover of "With the Beatles."
I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for years in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, but one night was more memorably traumatic than all the others.
It was a Monday and I stepped out of my apartment near West 74th Street at around 10:40 p.m. for a late-night cup of coffee, which I always had on weeknights before coming home for the Johnny Carson monologue and sleep.
When I arrived at the coffee shop on Broadway, the young women behind the counter were talking frantically -- and one of them blurted out, "Someone just shot John Lennon." And I said something like, "Aw, c'mon," thinking she was joking. And then another woman said, "John Lennon just died at the Dakota." I said something like "Forget the coffee" and started running down Broadway toward West 72nd Street and then east toward Central Park West and the Dakota apartments, where Lennon lived and was, at that moment, dying.
It was around 11 p.m. on December 8, 1980, 35 years ago. John Lennon, age 40, had indeed just been shot to death outside his west side home, blocks from where I lived.
As I ran closer and closer to the Dakota, I could see the crowd at the end of 72nd Street growing larger and larger, expanding dramatically by the minute like a spillage or a flood.
When I got there -- it was around 11:10 -- someone in the crowd said Yoko Ono had just gone to nearby Roosevelt Hospital. Meanwhile, the police were blocking the south entrance to the Dakota, the scene of the crime. And people in tears and with boom boxes started playing and singing Beatles and Lennon songs in the street, now blocked to traffic (as I recall).
I stayed out in front of the Dakota for more than an hour. After a while, it felt like I was part of a crowd that was waiting to catch a glimpse of a celebrity who was about to emerge from an apartment house, but we were all really waiting for no one, as the person we'd come to honor was already gone forever.
I had to be at work at Delacorte Press at nine the next morning, so I walked home just before 1 a.m., turned on WNEW-FM, where disc jockey Vin Scelsa was helping everyone through the night with Lennon music and talk, went to bed and cried as if a beloved relative had been killed.
I was late to work the next morning.
The Upper West Side of Manhattan, as seen from my apartment window in 1980. [photo credit: unknown]
Obama in his first six years in the Oval Office: the best president since FDR.
Obama in these final months in office: not so much.
Cat got his tongue about Paris? Couldn't fit the Charlie Hebdo solidarity march into his schedule -- but he was able to make time for Ahmed-the-clock-hoaxster? This is clearly not the same president that killed bin Laden and gave us health care.
Since at least 2006, Obama has not given a single public speech in Berkeley, which is packed with the old-time progressives who had been working for his agenda for decades.
(When I was 16, when I could've been partying with pals, I was writing for Cesar Chavez's activists and demonstrating for other causes in the 1970s. Progressives of my generation laid the foundation for the policies Obama has championed. Yet the clock-hoaxer gets the WH nod (even as his speech-writers crib stuff from my blog and my published writings!) I think his relationship with the free speech wing of the progressive movement is tenuous at best. He seems to be more comfortable with the "tolerance for the intolerant" wing.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for November 16, 2015
I’ve finished around half of Elvis Costello’s memoir, “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink,” and am already ready to declare it the best memoir by anyone since Keith Richards’ “Life” -- high praise. Everyone already knew Costello was the best songwriter to have emerged in the post-Beatles era, but who knew he was also a superb prose writer?
The vivid way he sums up characters in a line or two is sometimes breathtaking. For example:
“Willy DeVille’s girlfriend, Toots, looked like a bag of old clothes that had been abandoned when the Shangri-Las left town…There was always the threat that a knife was not very far out of sight.”
Of Eddie Money, with whom Columbia execs paired him for one of the most mis-matched mini-tours in history: “A grumpy ex-cop.”
Elsewhere, Springsteen looked like he had arrived ”directly from fixing his motorcycle.”
On Jake Riviera: “A small pompadour…chest pushed out on tiny pointed feet”
Or this, about being with Billy Idol: “The four of us gathered around a crate of warm brown beer. I thought we’d better drink these down, right quick; we might be needing the empties.”
On Stiff’s Dave Robinson: he “once roadied for Jimi Hendrix and has the photos to prove it.”
On Alice Cooper: “A very likable fellow – and completely free of snakes.”
And then there’s this snapshot of his musical brother Nick Lowe: “Nick Lowe chain-smoked untipped Senior Service in the studio.”
So fascinating that Costello’s first encounter with Beatles music came when he heard it coming from the den of his dad, who was playing a new song called “Please Please Me” repeatedly in order to learn it. (Almost every American of his generation, by contrast, first heard the Beatles on – you guess it – Uncle Ed’s show.) His recollections about Paul McCartney confirm everything I know from first-hand experience and from all other sources: he is, truly, the world’s greatest living composer – and a terrific person, too.
And then Costello takes us through his oeuvre, song by glorious song, solving the mysteries of how they came to be.
On “Oliver’s Army”: Costello wanted to scrap it, but Lowe insisted they record it. And then Steve Nieve came up with one of the most brilliant piano bits of the era.
By the way, Steve Nieve emerges as sort of the George Martin of the Attractions and the de facto co-composer of many of Costello’s songs. And Elvis credits him fully and generously here. (By the way, I recently saw Nieve perform solo in Golden Gate Park and can only say…what a first-class talent and person. I must confess that one of the reasons I return to Costello albums is for Nieve’s piano figures and breaks.)
“Mystery Dance” was initially earmarked for Dave Edmunds, who, when you think about it, could’ve knocked it out of the park.
John McFee came up with the intros to “Alison” and “Red Shoes.” (I wonder whether Roger McGuinn ever covered “Red Shoes.”)
He writes about the “No Dancing” bridge, which is like a freestanding Merseybeat song. (Now that he mentions it, the bridge doesn’t really fully relate to the rest of it, but it does work.)
Who knew Mick Jones played guitar on “Big Tears”?
Interesting that Costello was thinking about Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” when he was coming up with “Radio Sweetheart.”
Amazing that “Tough Mama” was the first song that came to mind for Costello when he was with Dylan and trying to find a Dylan song to cover. (One of my all-time favorites.)
Yes, “Pump It Up” shares a lineage with “Too Much Monkey Business” -- and the family tree goes on from “Monkey Business” to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” to “Pump It Up” to “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” to “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
Turns out the “vanity factory” was Elizabeth Arden, where he worked before becoming a pro musician. (Also, he did not wear horn-rimmed glasses at his day job; they were added to him by the Stiff people; he says, they turned him into “Superman in reverse.”)
And, yeah, you can see how “American Girl” does lead to “Lipstick Vogue,” if you hum it the right way.
And then there’s this great insight:
“A lot of much of pop music has come out of people failing to copy their model and accidentally creating something new. The closer you get to your ideal the less original you sound.”
And I might add: those capable of faithful imitation (like Billy Joel and Hall and Oates, whose music I enjoy) might have been real innovators, and not just genius hitmakers, if they had been less adept at re-creating a sound.
Regarding his raucous first performance on “Saturday Night Live”: I can now see how it happened. Costello wanted to do a song that was more rousing than “Less Than Zero,” the choice of Columbia execs, and “Radio Radio” was certainly that. He was also thinking of the famous tv appearance by Jimi Hendrix in which he started playing “Hey Joe” to a crowd that was very unimpressed with the song and so he broke off and did a Cream hit instead.
When Costello switched course onscreen, he didn’t see anybody on the set objecting or hostile. But afterwards, Bill Murray told Costello that Lorne Michaels had given Elvis the finger during the song.
What also appears to have happened is that Columbia Records retaliated against Costello for the SNL stunt by unilaterally replacing “Night Rally” with “Radio Radio” on the American “This Year’s Model.” That said, “Radio Radio” is the better of the two songs, even if “Night Rally” has one of the most inspired bridges ever written.
More later. Don't start me talking...
NEW! November 7, 2015
Wow! My new song "SEX PARTY" just now went to #1 on the alternative chart at soundclick.com! Amazing.
Clearly, it's time for me to try to take this track to the next level by actively promoting it. I've evidently written something that's connecting with people and I'm very glad that it is!
PAUL IORIO'S "SEX PARTY": #1 ON THE SOUNDCLICK CHARTS!
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for November 3, 2015
Good news, my friends! My parody of the CNBC presidential debate has just been published by The Huffington Post. (Posted ten minutes ago or so and already tweeted a dozen times.) Read it here and have yourself a chuckle!
JUST PUBLISHED BY HUFFINGTON POST: IORIO'S PARODY OF CNBC DEBATE.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for November 1, 2015
For those who missed the recent G.O.P. debate on CNBC, here is a highly-condensed version presented in the language of Martin Scorsese’s film “Goodfellas,” which -- 25 long years ago -- dramatized the sorts of psychological dynamics that were on display at the forum.
Whatever the case, this abridged version is, mercifully, much shorter and, one hopes, a lot more fun.
Here it is. I'll call it..."GOPfellas."
All ten Republican candidates for president are on stage. Three CNBC journalists are in the front row.
Good evening, everyone, to CNBC's "Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate" -- live from the University of Colorado Boulder in Boulder, Colorado. I'm Becky Quick. Along with my CNBC colleagues, Carl Quintanilla and John Harwood.
My colleague Carl Quintanilla has the first question.
A lot to get to tonight, so let's get started. Senator Rubio, the Sun-Sentinel newspaper says you act like you hate your job. Do you hate your job?
Well, I read that editorial with great amusement.
Carl, can I say something up here? [turns to Rubio] Peppino, you’ve been getting to work late to shine my shoes lately. And you need to either get here on time or go find another job. You’re getting too uppity.
No more shoe shines, Jeb.
I said, no more shines. Maybe you didn’t hear about it, you’ve been away from elected office a long time. They didn’t tell you. I don’t shine shoes anymore.
Relax, for cryin’ ‘loud. What’s getting to you? I’m just breaking your shoes a little bit.
Sometimes you don’t sound like you’re kidding. There’s a lot of people around.
I’m only kiddin’ with you. I haven’t seen you for a long time and I’m just breakin’ your shoes. Sorry, didn’t want to offend you.
I’m sorry, too.
Now, go home and get your shinebox.
Damn you! You piece of crap! You never talked about John McCain missing votes in the Senate when he was running. You bought your friggin’ button!
Yeah, c’mon. You feel strong?! [goading him to fight]
RUBIO (furious, escorted off the stage)
Next question from John Harwood.
Mr. Trump, you've done very well in this campaign so far. But let's be honest: Is this a comic-book version of a presidential campaign?
I’m a comic book character to you? You mean, the way I talk? I’m funny to you?
CARLOS QUINTANILLA (interrupting)
Mr. Trump, you’ve got it all wrong –
No, wait. Harwood’s a big boy. He knows what he said. What did you say? Funny how?
Like a comic book version –
Let me understand you. I’m funny how? I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh.
Just…how you tell a story. You know…
No, no, I don’t know. YOU said, I’m a comic book character. How am I funny? What the hell is so funny about me? Tell me? Tell me what’s funny?
[long pause, holds up hand in exasperation] Get the hell out of here!
I almost had him! I almost had him!
Everyone on stage laughs roughly.
End of debate.
[Credit for modified "Goodfellas" logo: Paul Iorio. All dialogue taken directly from the film "Goodfellas" and from the transcript of the CNBC debate, all of it re-fashioned as parody by Paul Iorio.]
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for October 25, 2015
Twenty-one years ago, I wrote, reported and originated an article for The Washington Post that just about every publication wanted to publish. I mulled the offers and sold it to the Washington Post's Style section. Here it is:
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for October 24, 2015
I heard Hozier level the place last night with "Take Me to Church" in Berkeley. Almost took my breath away. Everyone should hear the song live. It sounds as if vocalist Andrew Hozier-Byrne was working through something painful, building tension on tension -- and the lyrics are quite clever, too. My guess is he'll be singing that one till at least 2055. But he said from the Greek Theater stage that this will be the band’s last U.S. gig for a while.
Have never seen a crowd as big in the hills above the Greek in Berkeley (where I heard the show) -- and I've seen almost all of 'em all over the past decade. Even bigger than the crowd for Ed Sheeran some months ago.
And Hozier-Byrne and his band have a personal link to Berkeley; last June, he sang at the funeral service for one of the Irish students killed in the balcony collapse several blocks from the Greek. Here, he dedicated one of his songs to the victims of that tragedy.
“If I could, I’d just like to dedicate this next tune to…those who died in the tragic balcony collapse,” he said, before kicking into “Angel of Death and the Codeine Scene,” one of the stronger songs of the night.
Other highlights were “Work Song,” “From Eden” and an interesting re-arrangement of Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird.”
But, frankly, everything else paled in contrast to stunner “Take Me to Church.”
Opening was a terrific new band from Dublin, Ireland, called Little Green Cars. They played a nine-song set with hints of early Sixties group-folk, 1980s R.E.M. and the intersection of Irish folk and Americana, all mixed together in an original way.
The best was the sixth song, whose title I don’t know (but it has a line that goes, “I’ve felt this way a long time”). “Harper Lee” was really engaging, almost sui generis, structurally. I predict this band will be headlining at the Greek within a few years.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for October 22, 2015
Lots of fun hearing Florence + the Machine perform last night in Berkeley on a tour that is going to only a half dozen (or so) U.S. cities. Two nights here at the Greek, in fact.
The band has doubled its audience since I last heard it (in June 2011) and seems to have expanded the role of Isabella Summers, the group’s amazing keyboardist, who played magically and hynotically at the end of “Cosmic Love.” Summers' role in the group should be further expanded.
Meanwhile, Florence Welch was in fine voice (or fine shriek!). (She is truly the master of the amelodic shriek, which somehow hits the ear just right. A real innovator when it comes to vocals.)
Other highlights included “Ship to Wreck,” “Mother” and, of course, “Dog Days Are Over,” which really got people going in the hills above the theater, where I heard the show.
Just finished dinner and might stroll up the hill again for a second helping – if only to hear opening act Sean Lennon, whose music I, frankly, have a very low opinion of. Let’s see if he can convince me otherwise in the next hour or so!
UPFATE: October 23, 2015: Just got back from hearing Sean Lennon perform with his band. Just awful. He doesn't have a good musical imagination at all He should take tips from his step-brother Julian, who has a far better sense of rhythm and knows how to allow his melodies to flow naturally.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for October 18, 2015
Last Night's Neil Young Concert.
The atmosphere was as electric as a lightning storm last night on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley as Neil Young and his band thundered for over three hours from the Greek Theater stage.
On this final night of his ’15 tour, Young performed half of his “Harvest” album, along with numerous other classics and some new tunes, all played wildly, perfectly, his voice and energy (and radicalism) undiminished by the decades.
And the fans and UC students who gathered in the hills above the theater (where I heard the show) were dancing and loving his music as much as I did in the 1970s, when I was their age.
I was lucky enough to have seen Young perform when he was 28 years old and I was 16, a mere two years after the release of “Harvest.”
And I can say, without hesitation, that this gig occasionally reached peaks as high as the ones at that 1974 show.
Last night, “Out on the Weekend,” “Mr. Soul” and “Alabama” were particularly strong, as was his unplugged solo opening salvo (“After the Gold Rush”/”My My Hey Hey”/”Helpless”/”Old Man”), though the latter two could’ve flown much higher with full band backing.
They sure flew high when I saw Young perform them back in ‘74 with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida, at a notably exceptional show on their “reunion” tour).
To digress a bit about that ’74 show: I remember the band kicked things off with three or four CSN songs before introducing Young. When he took the stage, the mood in the crowd changed dramatically -- as if twister clouds had just appeared on the horizon. The adrenaline level spiked. All eyes were on Young.
And then came that thunderous thumping bass/drum sound bouncing off the stadium walls. It was the most gigantic thing I'd ever heard (except for Led Zeppelin, who I'd seen the year before).
Young went to the mike: "There is a town in north Ontario...."
Wow. To this day, one of the most astonishing moments I’ve heard at any concert.
Which is why I sort of wish he’d brought out his ace band – Promise of the Real, featuring two of Willie Nelson’s sons – before the fifth song.
But that’s a small point, because the group rocked the daylights out of the rest of the material (including a nearly half-hour version of “Down by the River” and an inspired “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere”).
Promise of the Real may not have the untamed quality of Crazy Horse – who I last saw in 1986 in New Jersey, where they and Young were joined by David Crosby and Graham Nash for a blistering “Ohio” – but they have intensity and nuance. (And Lukas Nelson, who sang “September Song” here, sounds a lot like his dad.)
The effect that Young’s classic songs and riffs of the early seventies have on fans, young and old, cannot be overestimated. You could no more erase his work from the American landscape than you could erase the Grand Canyon or Half Dome. When one hears the opening notes of “Down by the River” or “Alabama,” it feels sort of like an element on the periodic table has come to life.
Unfortunately, one can’t say the same about the songs on his new album, “The Monsanto Years,” which is well-crafted but too preachy. (Frankly, if he were crusading against Smith & Wesson and the NRA, far greater devils than Monsanto, I might be singing along.)
But I can overlook that, given the vast, generous Americana mural that Young displayed last night in what amounted to a hometown show. (Young lives in nearby San Mateo county.) Like the fault by his ranch, he rocked the place like a magnitude 8. Long may he run.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for October 13, 2015
Many thanks to KALX and great DJs Marshall Stax and Amazing Grace for airing my brand new song "Don't Pray for Me" last night!
The song is so new that I haven't yet posted an MP3, so (for now) here're the lyrics. Audio and video coming online soon!
UPDATE: Here's a free stream/download of the MP3 edition of "Don't Pray For Me":
free stream/download of "DON'T PRAY FOR ME"
I'd always wanted someone to write a song just like this -- so I did.
My new album, "As It Were" -- which features nine new Paul Iorio songs -- was released mere days ago. (And the number of CDs out there right now can be counted on one hand!) I'm working hard to send it out to everyone, but demand is higher for this one than for my other ones.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for October 12, 2015
I wish someone would post a setlist for Julia Holter's gig last Saturday night, opening for Beirut. Because I'm sort of going mad trying to identify a song with a wonderful melody that she sang (two or three tunes before her finale). Holter’s quite impressive, recalling Joni Mitchell and Laurie Anderson at times.
Lots of magic in Beirut's show. Such a cinematic sound. Inspires people to act out the music (like I’ve seen fans sometimes do at shows by The Decemberists and She & Him).
Zach Condon sings like a cross between Bryan Ferry and Jay Black and also like Rocky Roberts, the singer of “Django,” which Condon and Beirut should consider covering. (They might also want to try Van Morrison’s “The Way Young Lovers Do” and Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.”)
Highlights of the night were originals “Santa Fe” and “East Harlem,” both from their 2011 album “Rip Tide.”
On the downside, they do overuse the matador style horn a bit; I almost expected a bullfight to break out a couple times.
But all told, well worth checking out. Ninety minutes flies by in a flash listening to them.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for October 10, 2015
I heard Ben Howard and the band Daughter last night at the Greek in Berkeley. There's real magic, unprepossessing at first, in much of what Howard does. And "Rivers in Your Mouth" is a real force of nature live. Remarkable performance of that one.
Opening act Daughter is an interesting U.K. band, part of a new generation that is actually more influenced by "Grace" -- the Jeff Buckley collaboration with my friend Gary Lucas (one of the most imaginative guitarists on the planet, btw) -- than by the great Captain Beefheart himself! (Who knew that would ever happen?)
Daughter seems influenced by both Lucas/Buckley and by Kristen Hersh and the band Belly, but their sound is quite original. And, live, they crescendo more intensely (and with greater nuance) than almost any new indie band I've heard.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for October 5, 2015
Nick Lowe's Concert at Hardly Strictly Yesterday Afternoon.
Lowe closing his set with "What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding" yesterday. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
Very enjoyable 45-minute early afternoon set in the park. Just Lowe and his acoustic. A chance to re-discover some of his more obscure tracks. “I Live on a Battlefield” and “What’s Shaking on the Hill” were particularly strong. “Cruel to Be Kind” and “Peace, Love and Understanding” were great in new arrangements. (Two questions: did he write “Peace, Love and Understanding” this way originally, and why didn’t he record it for one of his own albums?) I love his style of underplaying -- though, vocally, he does risk becoming the Perry Como of the post-New Wave if he keeps up this laid back style!
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for October 3, 2015
Had a ball hearing Nile Rodgers and Chic perform at the Greek in Berkeley last night.
One of the highlights was the mini-set of hits Rodgers wrote (or co-wrote) for others. (Much as Willie Nelson and Smokey Robinson also do live medleys of iconic songs they wrote but are popularly associated with others, the former playing "Crazy" and the latter doing the songs he wrote for The Temptations. But I digress.)
Anyway, Rodgers's version of "Upside Down" has to be heard to be believed; "We Are Family" was like a danceable anthem; Chic put real swing and soul into Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and made "Let's Dance" seem so heartfelt.
But the best of the night was "Freak Out," which came alive like a playful wild animal in the woods. People in the hills above the theater (where I heard the show) danced as if the place was 54.
In addition to being a blast, Rodger's show also makes a fantastic case for his induction into the RnRHOF.
Rodgers/Chic were opening for Duran Duran, whose fans seem more enthusiastic about them than they ever were. Astonishing level of adulation for them.
And when they performed the undeniably catchy "The Reflex," people were singing "Whyyyy don't you use it" at full volume. Couldn't stay for the whole Duran set, but was surprised at how strong they sounded.
Opening was Clean Bandit, a fast-rising U.K. dance music group -- sort of like disco revivalists in a very 21st century way -- who seemed poised to break much bigger than they already have.
Such an abundance of musical riches last night in the Bay Area. Across the Bay, a group of amazing musicians were bringing their Big Star Third tour to the Hardly Strictly festival. I was torn between that and Chic -- but in the end I just couldn't pass up the chance to hear Nile Rodgers.
Will make it to Hardly Strictly either tomorrow or later today.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for September 26, 2015
Last Night's AC/DC Concert.
Angus Young, last night in San Francisco. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
With half its set from the Bon Scott-era, and another quarter from "Back in Black," its "Led Zeppelin 4," a genuine hard rock totem, AC/DC performed last night in San Francisco -- one of only seven U.S. cities the band scheduled on this limited-edition American tour, which ends Monday in Los Angeles.
As someone who saw the band up close during its 1985 tour, I can attest that Angus Young's guitar playing has never been better -- though Brian Johnson, charismatic as ever, doesn't always hit the vocal mark anymore (though, at his best, he makes you forget Scott ever existed).
This is still one supremely crankin' band and the multi-generational crowd gathered in McCovey Cove -- where you could hear the show full blast and see it on a video screen for free (that’s where I heard the concert) -- were dancing, rockin', singing along, wildly exuberant at times. Across from the Cove, in AT&T Park, where the show was actually taking place, so many fans were wearing illuminated devil's horns that the crowd looked peppered with red from a distance.
The height of the night -- and of their career so far -- was "You Shook Me All Night Long," one of the best hard rock songs ever, performed here to perfection and inciting joyous partying.
Other highlights included a surprisingly strong "Back in Black," crowd-pleaser "Highway to Hell" and "TNT."
As with The Who and Led Zeppelin, the magic of AC/DC lies partly in their virtuosic ability to play a musical instrument called amplification. They can shape a massive sound cloud like few others.
(Also, loved the silent 40-second pauses before each song, which felt sort of like the pent-up moment before a tantrum.)
The band is both successor to Zeppelin and forerunner to GNR (the latter being an aesthetic trail that went dry pretty quickly).
True, after "Back in Black," Spinal Tap took a lot of piss out of the band with a satire that seemed aimed directly at them at times. (Which inspired me to come up with some future titles for the band: “I Pledge Allegiance to the Rock,” “In Rock We Trust,” “E Pluribus Rock." Though I think “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” is already taken.)
But it's also true that song-centric indie rockers have sort of championed the band over the years (e.g., The True Believers did a great cover of "Highway to Hell" as far back as the late eighties; in recent years, Lucinda Williams has covered "It's a Long Way to the Top").
It’s real rock populism, too. The crowd, before the show, was so excited; one guy ran by me singing “for those about to rock, we salute you” as he ran; a group of guys in a boat in the cove were group-chanting the “hey hey!” part of “TNT.” It seemed like everybody had a favorite song they were looking forward to – and the band played almost all the classics.
Opening was Vintage Trouble, a reminder to those about to rock that it's a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n' roll!
Angus Young, showing his devil horns to the crowd last night. [photo by Paul Iorio]
So many fans wore illuminated devil's horns that the crowd in the arena looked peppered in red from a distance. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for September 21, 2015
New Evidence That al-Awlaki Had Foreknowledge of 9/11 Attacks.
Al-Awlaki's Possibly Tell-Tale Copyright Dates
Awlaki's copyright for much of his life's work. Was
he summing up and getting his affairs together a few
weeks before 9/11, in anticipation of some sort of upheaval?
Anwar al-Awlaki, the late Islamic militant known to have met with two of the September 11th hijackers, spent the weeks prior to 9/11 collecting much of his life's work for publication and copyright.
The proximity of his work's copyright dates to the 9/11 attacks arguably gives the appearance of someone summing up or getting one's work and affairs in order before an anticipated interruption of some sort.
At the very least, the timing is suspicious (much as, analogously, increased business activity preceding a company downturn or upturn would trigger an insider trading investigation by the SEC).
According to my own original research of online records at the U.S. Copyright Office, Awlaki had filed for a copyright only twice in his career: for a 22-CD audio compilation of his lectures that was published on August 15, 2001, and for a cassette tape version published months earlier. (The formal copyright for both works was registered in subsequent months.)
Awlaki's copyrighted oeuvre -- "The Life of the Prophets," an audio anthology of his speeches spanning some two dozen discs and 18 cassette tapes -- was published by the Denver, Colorado-based Al Basheer Company For Publications & Translations, which shares the copyright with him. (The company has not responded to a question about whether it paid royalties to Awlaki.)
The Al-Basheer Company initially promoted the CD-set prominently on its website's front page but has since removed it from its online catalogue altogether. However, the publisher continued to publish and promote works by another jihadi, Bilal Philips, who the U.S government has called an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the World Trade Center attack of 1993.
According to my research, in the period before the 9/11 attacks -- from August 24 to August 27, 2001 -- Awlaki and Bilal Philips both appeared at a Da'wah Conference at the University of Leicester in the U.K. with other Muslim activist speakers, including Rafil Dhafir, now in prison in the U.S. on terrorism charges.
When the circumstantial evidence about Awlaki's activities in the weeks before 9/11 is put together, one has to wonder and ask about the possibility that Awlaki had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks.
First, as has been widely reported, Awlaki knew two of the hijackers -- Hawaf al-Hizmi and Hazmi's roommate Khalid al-Mihdar -- in the months prior to the hijackings. (A third, Hani Hanjour, attended the mosque where Awlaki was the imam).
Second, as I've just reported, Awlaki spent the months and weeks before the attacks getting his life's work together, assembling a sort of 'collected works' retrospective of his lectures (though he had never before and hasn't since copyrighted his material).
Third, in the week before the hijackings, he was participating in a seminar with a militant involved in the World Trade Center bombing of '93 (as I've reported here).
It should be noted that a cassette tape edition of Awlaki's work had been published in January 2001, and even this date supports my theory that he was tying up loose ends. After all, the hijackings were originally scheduled for early 2001 and then for July 2001, with the final date of 9/11 decided only at the last minute. So if hijacker al-Hizmi had confided in Awlaki in 2000 about the upcoming attacks, Awlaki would have come into 2001 knowing only that the hijackings would take place some time that year.
For the record, the conventional wisdom has it that Awlaki publicly condemned the 9/11 attacks at the time. But close scrutiny of his statements reveals that he almost always talked about 9/11 in highly ambiguous and almost sneaky terms that could easily be read as an endorsement of either side.
For example, Awlaki was quoted by The New York Times in '01 as saying the following about incendiary jihadi talk that leads to violence:
''There were some statements that were inflammatory," Awlaki told The Times -- while not specifying whether he was referring to statements by Muslim radicals or by the so-called infidel -- "and were considered just talk, but now we realize that talk can be taken seriously and acted upon in a violent radical way." (Again, his meaning was slippery and could have easily been along the lines of: 'now we realize that blasphemy and anti-Islamic talk must be taken seriously and should be combated with violence.')
By the time of the 9/11 attacks, al-Awlaki had already been under investigation for a couple years by the F.B.I. for suspected al Qaeda ties. The myth that he was a moderate then and became an extremist is evidently just that: a myth.
Al-Awlaki was killed four years ago this month by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.
Awlaki's collected lectures, prominently promoted
by its publisher, Al-Basheer, in '01.
* * *
Awlaki's publisher went on to publish
books by other jihadists like Bilal Philips,
who helped plan the bombing of the twin towers in '93.
* * * *
Awlaki and Bilal Philips both shared the bill at a conference
at the University of Leicester just prior to 9/11.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for September 13, 2015
Let a million refugees in. And then draft every able-bodied man and woman from that refugee group into the military to fight the ISIS militants that they fled.
They will be the force on the ground in Syria and in Iraq to kill off Daesh. Those who survive are welcome in the U.S. as permanent residents (G.I. Bill included).
By the way, I just posted this idea (which I came up with an hour or so ago) on the London Express site and people love it! I'm pleasantly surprised and taken aback by the positive reaction of Londoners to my idea! "Brilliant," said one woman. "Very clever lad you," said some man. Wow! And it really is a workable idea when you think about it.
Trump is a Teflon Nixon. He’d commit Watergate-ish offenses as president and say, “Yeah, I ordered the break-in, so what? I’ll bug anyone I think is a danger to this country. Next question.”
He'd commit impeachable offenses and then suspend congressional impeachment proceedings – by executive emergency decree.
You can’t defeat him with a Muskie (Hillary) or a McGovern (Bernie). But Biden -- a sort of Humphrey circa his highly-regarded pre-veep days – might be able to take him down, if only he could get the Democratic nomination.
I’m sure Biden is crunching the numbers in terms of super-delegates, pledged delegates, unpledged delegates and winner-take-all contests. And he’s shaking his head. No clear path to the nomination for him – or for Hillary, if he’s in the race.
I know everybody’s high on Bernie right now, but the national math is against him. Yeah, he’s on track to win Iowa and New Hampshire, but afterwards he’ll be buried by Hillary in red states. (There’s no way he’s going to win big-ticket contests in Texas, Georgia, Florida, etc.)
By my own ultra-conservative count, Hillary easily has 1,750 delegates coming to her and only needs around 2,200. And that’s assuming (improbable) losses by her in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, even California.
Biden would cut into Hillary’s margins in the red states, causing a brokered convention that party bosses would have to decide in Hillary’s favor.
If the Democrats really – really – want to save America from Trump, there is a far-fetched solution that nobody has voiced yet. Hear me out.
Obama could resign so Biden could become the president standing for re-election – with all the power of the incumbency that would give him.
And then – here’s the beauty part – Biden would appoint Elizabeth Warren as his vice president.
So, it would become a Biden-Warren ticket from the git, as Biden works his magic in the Oval Office and on the campaign trail throughout 2016.
Obama could simply say, “After seven years of being president, I want to turn it over to someone who has been twice elected vice-president by the American people, someone who should be given a shot to complete the Obama-Biden agenda his way, if only for a year. I leave on a high note and trust that Joe will only take it higher.”
A highly unlikely strategy, to be sure, but the Dems are going to have to think way outside the box to stop this Trump juggernaut.
I took my after-dinner hike in the hills tonight to coincide with the final half-hour of Lenny Kravitz's concert in that part of the UC Berkeley campus. So, I caught his final five songs. And, whatever you might think of him, there is no denying the power of his encore, "Are You Gonna Go My Way," which really crunches live, the best Hendrix song Hendrix never wrote.
As for the others...I think he ought to pare some of 'em down. I mean, the endings of his endings have endings.
Some of it reminded me of Vernon Reid's Living Colour, though Reid knew the value of brevity.
All told, the crowd enjoyed it a lot. And his finale was undeniable, even to non-fans.
CL, a hip hop star in Seoul, really wowed the crowd Friday night in Berkeley at the annual music fest put on by the Mad Decent record label. She only played for around twenty minutes, mixing her solo stuff with hits from her days with girl group 2NE1, but clearly she’s poised for some sort of U.S. stardom soon.
She preceded headliner Major Lazer, the side project of Mad Decent’s founder, Wesley Pentz (aka, Diplo), who got people dancing wildly. They mix the most extreme bass sound this side of the Glitch Mob with great beats and plenty of Jamaican hot sauce.
A decade ago, Mad Decent was throwing these “block parties,” as they’re called, for free on a street in Philadelphia. Now they’re sold-out fests that tour a couple dozen cities with a rotating set of over sixty acts.
This time around, CL is the one to watch.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for September 10, 2015
About Last Weekend's Billy Joel Concert in San Francisco...
Billy Joe, crooning last Saturday night at AT&T Park. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
As Billy Joel noted from the stage last Saturday night at AT&T Park, this was his very first show in San Francisco in 40 years, his previous gig here having been at a 500-seater in '75.
Forty years? Why the estrangement? You could say Joel is not exactly San Francisco writ large. In many ways, he's sort of the opposite of the city by the bay.
And when he sang about "the Pennsylvania we never found," I looked around at the very California crowd, which seemed sort of puzzled by this obscure geographical reference.
His paeans to the middle-Atlantic states may hit home for someone like me, who lived in that region for many years, but for dudes from the Mission and Carmel who've never even visited back east, not as much.
Still, everyone across from AT&T Park in McCovey Cove, where I heard (and partly saw) the show, had a ball, dancing to his great cover of Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music," swaying to "She's Always a Woman to Me," drinking up the hits.
My favorites of the evening were "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," "Sometimes a Fantasy" and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," which had amphetamine momentum and sounded like cold spring rapids at times.
He also did a sort of Replacements-style schtick in which he performed lots of covers, most of them only incompletely, some of them ironically, all of them linked in a sort of running tribute to classic Bay Area bands. Some worked better than others (he did a funny imitation of Janis Joplin), though I wish he had played a half dozen more of his own songs instead.
Still, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The crowd outside the Billy Joel concert. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for August 24, 2015
Well, all right! The Huffington Post has just published my story about meeting Jimmy Carter in June 1975. Click the link to read it.
NEW IN HUFFINGTON POST: Paul Iorio's "The Day I Met Jimmy Carter."
The Day I Met Jimmy Carter, Dark Horse
When I met him, Carter was polling around one percent in major presidential preference surveys.
I was 17 and standing with two friends at the end of a long, deserted pier on Tampa Bay in June 1975.
In the distance, a smiling middle-age man started walking the long, hot distance toward the three of us and, as he came closer, it became obvious he was hiking that span just to see me and my pals.
When he finally came to the far end of the pier, he reached out his hand to me and said, "Hi, my name is Jimmy Carter and I'm running for president of the United States."
I recognized him immediately because I knew a lot about politics, so I and my pals were a bit uptight and daunted by this famous guy. But he put us at ease and lowered the temperature quickly.
I remember Carter pointed to the boats in the bay -- singling out a "cigarette boat" -- and said, "I once had a boat like that" or some such. And he went on in a really engaging small-talk style about boats. Very low-key. He smiled as he left and we were all smiling ourselves by then. He had such positive energy and a wonderful impact on people.
I can’t help but think that that long walk to the end of that nearly empty pier revealed the exact reason why he was elected president the following year. To him, everybody mattered, even a teenager like me who wasn’t of voting age.
For the record, this was not a Carter-for-president rally. At this point in the game, he wasn’t yet able to muster enough supporters to have a significant rally in Florida. In mid-‘75, he was polling around one-percent (if that!) in most major surveys and would poll under five-percent throughout the rest of ‘75 and into early ’76. So he was as much of a long-shot as Rick Perry is right now.
Carter had announced his candidacy for president months earlier, in January of ’75, having finished his term as governor of Georgia, where he was celebrated as the progressive successor to right-winger Lester Maddox.
And he knew the pivotal political significance of Florida. He saw that fellow southeasterner George C. Wallace had gained enormous momentum by winning the state’s primary in ’72, before Wallace’s campaign was cut short by an assassination attempt. Could a southeastern progressive do the same?
With the now-crippled Wallace a lesser force than he had been -- and with Florida governor Rubin Askew declining to run -- Carter was spending a huge amount of time in the Sunshine State. "During 1975 and 1976, my wife, Rosalynn, spent 75 days in Florida; and I spent almost as many," wrote Carter on a University of California at Santa Barbara academic website.
So, when I met him, Carter was in town for no special reason that I knew of, but rather for some local Democratic party meeting that was happening in the building near that pier on which he wandered to meet me and my friends.
And the three teenagers he went out of his way to meet were nothing special. I had no relatives involved in politics at that time, though I was a community activist (who had been covered in the local newspaper (The Tampa Tribune) a year earlier for co-organizing an impeach Nixon rally) and had been the elected president of my high school student council. My friend David was a college student (and is now an attorney); and I think the other pal of mine was Todd, also a student.
The likely date was Saturday, June 7, 1975, just before sunset. (I worked on Saturdays in those days, so it had to be after I got off my afternoon shift at the movie theater at 6 p.m.). It was the day after I’d graduated from high school.
To this day, Carter is the only the president I've ever met. Truly, he was the people's president -- and, coming after the imperial regimes of Nixon and Ford, he was the American spring, the healing force.
Which explains why we’re now seeing such an outpouring of affection and adulation for Carter as he battles health problems. I join millions in hoping he recovers as much as he possibly can.
Even nine months after I met him, this Time magazine cover (of March 8, 1976) was still asking, “Who is Jimmy Carter?”
The author of this piece, in the mid1970s. [photo credit: the King High School (of Tampa, FL) yearbook, 1975.]
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for August 10, 2015
Elton John Closes Outside Lands with His Best Songs
Fan wears Outside Lands wristband. [photo by Paul Iorio]
Elton John’s very last extensive tour came to Golden Gate Park last night and he had everybody crocodile rockin’ – even outside the Outside Lands festival, where I heard (but couldn’t see) the show.
With the core band members (Davey Johnstone, Nigel Olsson) who helped to create the sound of his prime, John performed his biggest hits for a couple hours to close out the three-day fest.
He ended his set with the climax of the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album – a full-velocity “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)” and a version of “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)” that sounded like Jerry Lee Lewis had hijacked the piano and flown it to Sun Studio.
And then he encored with “Crocodile Rock,” which had some dancing wildly in the streets, the park and the parking lots. (See photo, below)
Earlier, he played an exceptionally brilliant “Rocket Man”; the band extended its groove for a few minutes as John riffed virtuosically.
All told, he played 21 tunes – all of ‘em written by John with Bernie Taupin (with Johnstone sharing the credit on some tracks). (Interesting that he has never been able to summon his genius when he writes with other lyricists -- the sole exception being "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," which he co-wrote with Tim Rice.)
And there wasn’t a clunker in the setlist (except perhaps "Hey Ahab," from his ill-advised collaboration with Leon Russell in 2010).
This show – which I heard from a distance near Spreckels Lake, where it was loud enough to record it – compared favorably to other Elton shows I’ve seen up close. Of course, nothing beats the Central Park extravaganza that I saw in 1980 (a mere seven years after the release of ”Yellow Brick Road”); I’ll never forget fans dancing almost involuntarily to "Philadelphia Freedom" and other tunes.
And I had great seats in 1986 when he played Madison Square Garden, where people openly wept when he performed "Your Song."
Me, I wish he'd play more deep tracks, particularly songs that were dominant before "Yellow Brick Road" eclipsed all else. Stuff like "Friends," a wonderful ballad that used to be ubiquitous and has now been almost erased from airwaves and concert setlists; and fun stuff like "I Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself" and "Texas Love Song."
But it’d be impossible for him to include all the gems unless he did a six-hour concert. (Now there’s a concept!)
I arrived at the park just as Sam Smith was finishing his own set with “Stay With Me,” which the audience sang as if it were an ancient hymn. He has an almost supernatural falsetto live.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for August 9, 2015
Megyn Kelly IS a bimbo -- but not for the reasons Trump cites.
Exhibit A: in a little-noted moment at the end of the broadcast, she asked Rubio what he thought about "veterans and god," which must qualify as the most -- not just one of the most -- amateurish questions ever posed at a major presidential debate.
And one can sense what Kelly likely intended with the question: a rousing, cornball finale about "god and country" by the son of immigrants. It scans as a promotion of Rubio's candidacy. And it's a throwback to the broadcasters of the Eisenhower-era who asked questions along the lines of "What is your opinion on communism and satan"?
I guess everyone's already forgotten Kelly's "Santa Claus is white" howler of a few years ago!
No, Kelly's a laughingstock and moron for reasons that have nothing to do with the Trump controversy. (And her so-called "feminism", by the way, is nothing of the sort. Rather, her occasional championing of women's issues is mere self-interested identity politics that is right-wing on every issue except the one that affects her own demographic.)
Also, get off the Carly kick, folks. Out here in California, we know Fiorina. We saw her run against Boxer and get trounced in the debates and at the polls by a full 10%. We saw how ineffective she was in answering charges that she had almost never voted and that she accepted financial contributions from jihadists. Having failed at her Senate run -- funded to the hilt, btw -- , she now wants a promotion to president. She's a female Giuliani. And she wrongly thinks losing her temper and leadership are the same things.
THE DAILY DIGRESSION
for August 6, 2015
After reading the transcript of the GOP debate, here are my notes:
The word "stupid" was uttered by various candidates a remarkable nine times during the debate.
The most risible gaffes of the night came from Huckabee ("the purpose of the military is to kill people and break things") and Trump ("We don't have time for tone").
Megyn Kelly posed one of the worst debate questions ever, asking Rubio about his views on "god and the veterans." (Of course, Rubio, being an astute politician, answered that he hated both god and veterans.)
Trump did not always sound fully coherent. In moments of clarity, he actually came off like Bernie Sanders (in his defense of single-payer). .
Hillary attended Trump's wedding?!
Huckabee was as theocratic as a mullah. ("The Supreme Court is not the supreme being"? The Ayatollahs say the same thing all the time.)
Re Mexico: Trump wants a wall, Rubio says he wants a "fence." No candidate has yet endorsed a moat.
OK, Kasich, we got it the first time. Your dad was a mailman.
Rubio seems to be under the misimpression that El Chapo is the president of Mexico.
Trump characterized NYC as exclusively Democratic. Which is not really true. It's the city that elected Giuliani, after all. And Staten Island and parts of Queens are ultra-red.
Jeb apparently thinks that happy talk will get us to 4% economic growth.
Bush seemed misinformed: at one point he said that we can honor the soldiers who died in the Iraq war by stopping the Iran agreement. (Is he unaware that Iran is currently our biggest ally in the war against ISIS?)